AUSTIN (KXAN) – An Austin-based neurotech startup is making strides toward revolutionizing the way amputees can interact with their prosthetic limbs. 

Dr. Connor Glass, CEO and President of Phantom Neuro, said that many companies have developed technology for amputees to control prosthetic limbs through brain implants but that his company is the first to innovate a muscle-machine interface. 

How it works

Instead of implanting a device into the brain, which Glass said can be “risky,” Phantom Neuro has created a thin sensor device that – after being inserted through a small incision – sits on top of the muscles where it can detect electrical activity from nerves. The sensor is able to pick up that electrical activity and correlate it to the intended movements in the prosthetic limb. 

“[We are] basically creating an implantable human-machine interface…so that you can control a robotic limb the same way that you can control an intact biological limb,” Glass said.  “We’re absolutely a pioneer in this muscle-machine interface space and kind of in a lane of our own,” he continued. 

Phantom intends to use its technology for devices beyond prosthetic limbs, such as robotic exoskeletons, which could help people with mobility issues and increase strength.

“I think [this technology] is going to give them their lives back,” Glass said. “If you lose your hand or a digit –whatever it is – you should be able to get a robotic appendage that recreates that function, or maybe even does it even better, because one day, robotic joints can be stronger than human joints,” Glass said. 

“Helping people with these different types of injuries get their lives back will drastically improve society,” he continued.

What is to come

Glass went to medical school in Oklahoma and followed that up with a research fellowship in plastic surgery at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied how people with various forms of limb trauma controlled their prosthetic limbs. 

He started the company in Baltimore but wanted to move it to Austin because of its tech-hub status and it being a generally desirable place to live, Glass admitted. So far, Phantom Neuro has raised $9.5 million in seed funding from strategic and institutional investors, according to its website.

The device isn’t available on the market yet, but Glass said they recently surpassed a major milestone where the team successfully demonstrated the technology in a pig model. 

“We implanted a pig and had it walk on a treadmill,” he said. “Really, we built out our prototype system, and then we wanted to prove that it works and learn so that we can optimize,” Glass continued.  The pig was adopted by an animal sanctuary following the trial and experienced no long-term adverse effects following her participation.

Glass said next comes human trials, which he is hopeful will start in 2024, and has a goal for the technology to make it to market by 2027.

“We’re trying to do it as safely but as quickly as we can so we can help people as soon as possible,” Glass said. “Our entire goal is impact  – as much as we can and as quickly as we can.”