Breakthrough bionic hand restores amputee’s sense of touch

Dennis Sørensen squeezes the hand of a researcher using the Lifehand 2 prosthetic limb

For the first time ever, an amputee has been able to feel the real-time sense of touch with an artificial hand, thanks to a new system that transfers signals directly to the person's brain.

Dennis Aabo Sørensen, who lost his left hand in an accident nine years ago, had gotten used to his standard prosthetic hand, which could only open and close in response to muscle movements in his stump. To use this new prosthetic hand, called Lifehand 2, he travelled from his home in Denmark to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome, where he had special transneural electrodes surgically implanted into the nerves of his arm. When the research team attached the prosthetic hand to these electrodes, Sørensen was able to control the movements of the hand with his brain. A series of sensors embedded in the artificial tendons that control the finger movements relayed information back through the implants to Sørensen's nervous system and brain, giving him the sense of how hard the hand was gripping and even what kind of object he was grasping.

According to Stanisa Raspopovic, a member of the research team and first author of the paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday, the team was concerned that Sørensen's nerve sensitivity would have diminished over the last nine years of disuse, but they found that he had no problem using the prosthetic hand.

Silvestro Micera, who led the Swedish and Italian research group, and Sørensen talk about this amazing achievement in the video below:

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Lifehand 2 was developed by the EPFL Center for Neuroprosthetics in Switzerland, the BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) in Italy, along with other researchers from Italy, Germany, Denmark and the UK.

According to the researchers, the next stage of the development of this amazing new technology is to miniaturize the electronics for the feedback sensors, to make them portable, and to fine-tune the system to give an even better sense of touch and sense of the finger movements.

(Image courtesy: Lifehand 2/YouTube)

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