This bionic prosthetic hand can feel

Posted by Shane McGlaun

The typical prosthetic limb is a very limited device that usually looks very little like the arm, hand or leg it is meant to replace.

Fortunately, researchers  have been working diligently over the years to create improved bionic limbs for those who have lost theirs due to illness, war or an accident. 

According to current studies, 50% of individuals who lose a hand still don't use their prosthesis regularly because of poor functionality, appearance, and lack of precise control.

However, researcher Silvestro Micera from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland is working on a new type of smart prosthetic that can directly connect to the user's nervous system - along with intuitive motor control and realistic sensory feedback.

Meaning, Micera has created a prosthetic hand that could one day not only return dexterity lost to a missing hand but resurrect the sensation of touch as well. The researcher reported the results of his work from a four-week clinical trial for improved sensory feedback and amputees by using intramural electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves.

According to the Micera, implanting electrodes creates an intimate and natural connection with the nervous system and is less invasive than other methods. The process also provides bidirectional flow of information between the nervous system and the prosthetic giving users a more realistic experience and improved functionality.

"We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years," says Micera.

The implanted electrodes are able to stimulate the sensory peripheral system of the body and deliver varying types of touch feeling. In addition, information relating to grasping can be extracted from neural signals sent through those nerves and transferred to control a hand prosthesis placed near the subject.