The Missing Sense: New Bionic Hand Can Actually Feel

Bionic Hand with Feeling

Later this year a bionic hand will be transplanted onto a 20 year old male. This itself is not out of the ordinary, but the possibility that he will be able to feel by using the hand is a revolutionary breakthrough.

The operation will consist of connecting the nerves directly to the artificial hand. Once it is complete the final goal is to not only control the hand with normal movements, but to also pass the sense of touch from the ‘skin’ sensors to the nervous system. The forearm contains two main nerves, the ulnar and median. Electrodes will extend from the hand and clip directly onto each of these two nerves.

Silvestro Micera, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland has been leading this new breakthrough. His 4 week trial has shown tremendous progress and the team is ready to take the next step. The patient is a male from Rome in his 20’s who lost most of his arm during an accident. They hope to return the patient back to as close to a normal hand as possible. Studies have shown that up to 50% of amputees do not wear their prosthesis on a regular basis due to loss or lack of functionality, appearance, and control-ability. A successful surgery from Micera and team could change that percentage for future patients.

“We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years,” says Silvestro Micera. Of course if the trial indications are correct then the hand would be just the first of many prosthetic limbs for amputees. Imagine getting senses back for a foot that had been lost. Walking and taking that first step would be a major accomplishment. Entire arms and legs could once again gain full feeling and usability.

Micera hopes this will all soon be a regular surgery for many others and have most return to a normal sense of touch. “This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping. It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb”

This is not the first attempt at a prosthetic hand for Micera. In 2009 they successfully attached a hand with 2 sensory zones on Pierpaolo Petruzziello.  He was able to move the fingers and clinch them into a fist, but feeling was limited to the palm and it was very limited. The newest prototype has many more sensors and will provide sense all the way through each finger to the tips.

New robotic hand ‘can feel’

A team of scientists from Italy and Sweden has developed what is believed to be the first artificial hand that has feeling. It has been attached to the arm of a 22-year-old man who lost his own hand through cancer. Researchers say it works by connecting human nerve endings with tiny electronic sensors.

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