How are artificial limbs represented in the brain? 

While tremendous resources are dedicated to the development of cutting-edge prosthetic limbs to aid amputees to cope with their disability, a staggering 50% of amputees do not use their prosthesis regularly. We believe that a better implementation of artificial limbs can only emerge from a true understanding of the cognitive and neurophysiological constraints of prosthesis representation and usage. Our work explores whether neural resources, uniquely developed for hand representation, become repurposed to support artificial limbs, and whether neural “embodiment” of prosthetic limbs can be improved. 

Example papers: van den Heiligenberg et al., 2017, Psych. Science; van den Heiligenberg et al., 2018, Brain

Can the brain support body augmentation?

In recent years, there has been increased interest in emerging augmentative technologies that enhance the physical abilities of the human body, such as extra robotic fingers. We maintain that successful adoption of such technologies critically depends on the human brain’s ability to effectively operate augmentative technology. These innovative devices introduce new theoretical and practical challenges for body representation and brain plasticity. For example, what resources can the brain employ to control a body part that has never been there before? We collaborate with Dani Clode, designer of the Third Thumb, to characterise the neural correlates of successful motor augmentation using neuroimaging and behaviour. We also use local anaesthesia to assess the contribution of somatosensory feedback for successful control of augmentative devices. 

Example papers: Makin et al., 2017, Nature Bio Eng