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BME Researcher Receives Award from the Clinical Research Forum for Pioneering Bionic Arm Study

Dr. Marasco was honored for engineering a prosthetic that allows the wearer to “think” and function like an able-bodied person.


Paul Marasco, PhD, Associate Staff, Department of Biomedical Engineering, has received a 2022 Top Ten Clinical Research Achievement Award from the Clinical Research Forum (CR Forum), a non-profit membership association of top clinical research experts and thought leaders from the nation’s leading academic health centers. The awards honor groundbreaking achievements in clinical research from across the nation that demonstrate a vital impact on patient care.

Dr. Marasco was honored for his research, published in Science Robotics, entitled “Neurorobotic fusion of prosthetic touch, kinesthesia, and movement in bionic upper limbs promotes intrinsic brain behaviors.” In this study, Dr. Marasco and his team describe a first-of-its-kind bionic arm for patients with upper-limb amputations that allows wearers to function like a person without an amputation.

The team modified a standard-of-care prosthetic with a complex bionic system that combines motor control, touch and grip kinesthesia (the person’s awareness of the hand opening and closing). The neural-machine interface connects with the wearer’s limb nerves and enables patients to send nerve impulses from their brains to the prosthetic when they want to use or move it, and to receive physical information from the environment and relay it back to their brain through their nerves. It is the first system to test all three sensory and motor functions in a neural-machine interface at once in a prosthetic arm.

The research team also designed a suite of tasks reflective of basic, everyday behaviors that require hand and arm functionality. With these advanced evaluation tools, the researchers were able to assess how the performance of the bionic limb compared with that of able-bodied people and people with amputations who have traditional prosthetic devices.

These advanced metrics revealed that people with upper-limb amputations who use this bionic arm are now able to again “think” like an able-bodied person--to make judgments and decisions and calculate for their mistakes like a person with a natural limb. Revealing the benefits of advanced bionics in comparison to standard-of-care prosthetic options is a key requirement for effective translation of emerging technologies to clinical care.

“This research looks at providing the person with an intent of movement--of being able to control their limb essentially by thinking about it,” said Dr. Marasco. “Then the limb itself provides the feedback through the movement of the hand and of the touch that it feels.

“Over the last decade or two, advancements in prosthetics have helped wearers to achieve better functionality and manage daily living on their own,” said Dr. Marasco. “These findings are an important step towards providing people with amputation with complete restoration of natural arm function, which can help enable seamless reintegration back into daily life.”

Dr. Marasco was nominated for the CR Forum award by Serpil Erzurum, MD, Chief Research & Academic Officer and Chair, Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute. As Dr. Erzurum stated in her nomination, “Dr. Marasco’s study has great implications for improving outcomes and quality of life in wounded soldiers and veterans.”

“I am honored to receive the CR Forum 2022 Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award,” said Dr. Marasco. “It is my privilege to work under Dr. Erzurum’s leadership and to be recognized for our work. We are grateful to the CR Forum for recognizing the importance of clinical research for positively impacting patient outcomes.”

This study was funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a research and development arm of the Department of Defense.

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