Each year, MIT Technology Review selects a list of the most promising innovators around the world who are changing the future of science and technology. This year’s list included six EIT supported innovators, among which Francesco Petrini from SensArs Neuroprosthetics. SensArs Neuroprosthetics is an EPFL spin-off specialising in neuromodulation technologies for the peripheral nervous system. The startup’s flagship product is SENSY, a unique worldwide device restoring sensory feedback to lower limb amputees from their prosthesis. The prosthesis allows users to perceive tactile sensations, which gives them greater confidence and helps them avoid falls. This is achieved by stimulating the amputee’s sciatic nerve through tiny implanted electrodes. Consequently, the user will receive sensory feedback from the prosthesis as from a real leg.
According to François Jouen, Director of Studies and Senior Researcher at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes as well as member of the Innovators Under 35 Europe 2019 judges, SENSY “proposes a very innovative approach to restoring the processing of sensory information for people with amputations.”
In 2019, the startup conducted clinical trials in collaboration with the University of Belgrade successfully tested the neurofeedback system with two volunteers who have an above-knee leg amputation and use a leg prosthesis. As a result, the two patients were able to walk faster, needed less effort and reduced the patients’ phantom limb pain. The solution benefited the amputees in a variety of ways, as reported in a paper titled, “Sensory feedback restoration in leg amputees improves walking speed, metabolic cost and phantom pain.”
The next step is to develop a fully implantable system with wireless neuro-stimulation, that can be fully implanted into the patient like a pace-maker, and obtain the necessary certifications so that it can be marketed.