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Engineers at Oregon State University have developed and successfully demonstrated a simple pulley mechanism to improve hand function after surgery. The device is one of the first instruments ever created that could improve the transmission of mechanical forces and movement while implanted inside the body.

It could provide options to people who have lost the use of their hands due to nerve trauma, and ultimately be expanded to improve function of a wide range of damaged joints in the human body. The new mechanism is not robotic since it has no sensory, electronic, or motor capabilities. Rather, it’s a passive technology using a basic pulley that will be implanted within a person’s hand to allow more natural grasping function with less use of muscle energy.

Research showed how the mechanism can produce more natural and adaptive flexion of the fingers in grasping. The needed force to close all four fingers around an object was reduced by 45 percent, and the grasp improvement on an object reduced slippage by 52 percent. It could be possible to create joints or limbs that mechanically function as well or better than they did originally.

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