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NEBIAS researchers publish in the journal Neurology the work of Italian physician who inspired today's neuroprosthetics

October 2017

In 1896, Giuliano Vanghetti conceived the idea of connecting the control mechanism of prosthesis directly to a muscle. A new study by the researchers of Sant’Anna School Biorobotics Institute, published today in Neurology, the most cited and peer-reviewed neurology journal of the “American Academy of Neurology”, analyzed the cineplastic procedures began in 1898 by Vanghetti as a pioneer in neuroprosthetics (Tropea P, Mazzoni A, Micera S, Corbo M. Giuliano Vanghetti and the innovation of "cineplastic operations". Neurology. 2017 Oct 10;89(15):1627-1632. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004488).

The study, developed by bioengineers and neurologists who investigated archival and manuscript materials of “Fondo Vanghetti” held at the library “Renato Fucini” in Empoli (Florence), could have implications for scientists who are currently investigating natural neural signals and neural stimulation technique to produce sensations. Devices and techniques developed by Giuliano Vanghetti (a physician who lived in Empoli, Tuscany), based on methods for cinematic amputations, have materially changed the practice of prosthetic applications.

Bioengineers and neurologists of Sant’Anna School Biorobotics Institute, Casa di Cura del Policlinico di Milano and EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) currently researching new techniques in prosthesis technology, presented an account of physician and surgeon, Vanghetti and Ceci, who have distinguished themselves in the application of kinematic prostheses of the upper extremity, trying to enable amputees to use their muscles to power the prosthesis (creating a skin flap and forming a skin-lined tunnel under a muscle that remains above an amputated limb).

The path to developing this technology began when Vanghetti (born in 1861 near Florence) observed that soldiers of the 1896 Adwa campaign with amputated hands still had intact forearm muscles. The battle of Adwa cost many lives: Italian soldiers and Askari (native troops from Eritrea) fell into the hands of the Ethiopian troops. About 800 prisoners were subjected to the traditional punishment for disloyalty by having their right hands and left feet amputated. Vanghetti had the idea of utilizing the forearm muscles as a force of movement for prosthesis; the first operation was performed by Professor Ceci in Pisa Hospital in 1900 since the Italian government provided limbs for military personnel who received amputations. Exchange of ideas and of studies gave Vanghetti and Ceci the opportunity to increase the impact of their research (first tests were performed using chickens) but the scientific community expressed doubts about Vanghetti’s method and preferred the tunnel cineplasty developed by German surgeons in the early 1900s.

Although tunnel cineplasty fell out of favor, Dr. Vanghetti’s work received worldwide recognition and honors (from Reale Accademia dei Lincei, Croce Rossa Italiana and the nomination to the Nobel Prize in 1923).

“Giuliano Vanghetti’s life and work – note the researchers who wrote the study published in ‘Neurology’ journal – remain important in the contemporary research program in prosthetics. He was a gifted physician and a true visionary and today he finally gets the recognition he deserved”.

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