First Amputee Has Touch Restored With Bionic Hand

Posted: Feb 6 2014, 9:33am CST | by , Updated: Feb 6 2014, 9:36am CST, in Misc


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First Amputee Has Touch Restored With Bionic Hand

The researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) in Switzerland and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) recently developed a completely new sensory feedback channel which allowed a Danish 36 year-old amputee, Dennis Aabo Sørensen, to feel objects in his hand in real time. This was the first time in nine years that Sørensen experienced the sensation of touch.

A prototype of this bionic technology was tested in February 2013 during a clinical trial and one year later, Sørensen has become the first amputee to have his touch restored.

The test to restore Sørensen’s touch was in a controlled lab and by Silvestro Micera and his team who reduced his ability to see and hear with special blindfolds and earplugs. In this setting, Sørensen could detect how strong his grasp was and the shape and consistency of different objects he picked up with his prosthetic hand.

According to Sørensen the sensory feedback was incredible.

“I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years,” said Sørensen. “When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square.”

This is the first sensory artificially enhanced limb but it took years in the making and was created in collaboration with several leading European hospitals universities in Germany, Italy and Switzerland through a project called Lifehand.

According to the release, on January 26, 2013, Sørensen underwent surgery in Rome where a specialized group of surgeons and neurologists implanted transneural electrodes into the ulnar and median nerves of Sørensen’s left arm. After 19 days of tests, Micera and his team then connected their prosthetic to the electrodes and Sørensen, every day for an entire week.

But, Micera and his team had to enhance the artificial hand with sensors that could detect information about touch by measuring the tension in artificial tendons that control finger movement and turning this measurement into an electrical current.

According to the Institute’s news release, electrical signals are too coarse to be understood by the nervous system. So, using computer algorithms, the scientists transformed the electrical signal into an impulse that sensory nerves can interpret.

Sørensen’s sense of touch was restored by sending the digitally refined signal through wires into the four electrodes that had been surgically implanted into the remains of Sørensen’s upper arm nerves.

“This is the first time in neuroprosthetics that sensory feedback has been restored and used by an amputee in real-time to control an artificial limb,” says Micera.

In addition to being the first successful sensory enhanced artificial limb, it’s also the first time electrodes have been transversally implanted into the peripheral nervous system of an amputee.

According to the researchers, Sørensen’s psychological strength was an asset to the test’s success.

“I was more than happy to volunteer for the clinical trial, not only for myself, but to help other amputees as well,” said Sørensen.

Now, Sørensen faces the psychological challenge of having experienced touch again – even for a short period of time – until the science and bionic hand can be perfected.

Source: Forbes

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