Bensmaia lab receives nearly $10M to study the sensorimotor system

Sliman Bensmaia

Understanding the relationship between somatosensation (the senses of touch and proprioception, or the sense of the body in space) and motor control is challenging — especially when it comes to understanding the exquisitely sensitive and delicate sensation and movement of the human hand.

Now, a robotic system developed in the laboratory of Sliman Bensmaia (Computational Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Integrative Biology) at the University of Chicago will allow for unprecedented accuracy for recording the movements of the hand and the forces it exerts on objects, providing new insights that will help researchers restore a sense of touch for patients who have lost it.

The work will be supported by a new $9.6 million, eight-year R35 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

The new system includes an apparatus that places an object in front of a research subject, such as a monkey. The object is covered by a high-density sheet of sensors that can track the forces applied on the object as the monkey interacts with it. A deep learning-based computer vision system has been refined to track the complex movements of the arm and hand as the animal interacts with the object. The new system will also allow for a clearer and more naturalistic understanding of the relationship between how the brain encodes sensory signals from the hand and how that information is used during our interactions with the real world.

This work has included a long-running collaboration between UChicago and the University of Pittsburgh, studying the use of electrodes implanted in the sensory and motor cortices of research participants who are paralyzed to allow them to feel and manipulate robotic arms and hands. A more detailed understanding of how the nervous system of intact individuals controls a hand will inform the next generation of bionic hands.

Read more in the full story by Alison Caldwell "Bensmaia Lab receives nearly $10M to study the sensorimotor system using groundbreaking new robotic system" January 18, 2022

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