Italian Man to Get First Bionic Hand that Lets Him Physically ‘Feel’ [Gallery]

The first bionic hand that allows an amputee to feel what they are touching will be transplanted later this year in a pioneering operation that could introduce a new generation of artificial limbs with sensory perception.

  • Photo: PrensiliaPhoto: Prensilia
  • Photo: PrensiliaPhoto: Prensilia
  • Photo: PrensiliaPhoto: Prensilia
  • Photo: PrensiliaPhoto: Prensilia
  • Photo: PrensiliaPhoto: Prensilia
  • Photo: PrensiliaPhoto: Prensilia

A bionic hand which allows the recipient to feel what they touch might soon be available for amputees.

The patient is an unnamed man in his 20s living in Rome, said Silvestro Micera of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

An Italian man who lost the lower section of his arm in an accident will have the hand attached, via electrodes clipped on to two of his main nerves, directly to his nervous system.

After the hand will be attached, it is expected that the patient will be able to control the movements of the hand as well as receiving touch signals from the hand’s skin sensors.

Tactile feedback will be provided to the user via touch sensors in each fingertip, the palm and the wrist, which will then send signals to the brain via a feedback loop.

If the experiment goes according to plan, the patient will actually have the ability to control the high-tech hand with his thoughts.

Dr. Silvestro Micera revealed details of the planned pioneering surgery at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston this week.

The doctor said about the invention: “This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping.”

He continued: “It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb.

“We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next year.”

The hand was initially developed as a research and educational tool by Prensilia, a spinoff firm of Italian public university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, says the NY Daily News.

Scientists there have worked for more than two decades in developing the “new generation hand prostheses.”

An earlier, portable model of the hand was temporarily attached to Pierpaolo Petruzziello in 2009, who lost half his arm in a car accident.

He was able to move the bionic hand’s fingers, clench them into a fist and hold objects. He said that he could feel the sensation of needles pricked into the hand’s palm, writes the Independent.

However, according to the Dr. Micera words, this earlier version of the hand had only two sensory zones whereas the latest prototype will send sensory signals back from all the fingertips, as well as the palm and the wrists to give a near life-like feeling in the limb.

The high tech prosthesis will be tested for a month, and if all goes according to plan, a permanent transplant might be ready by 2015.

“The idea would be that it could deliver two or more sensations. You could have a pinch and receive information from three fingers, or feel movement in the hand and wrist,” commented the doctor.

Mr. Micera added: “We have refined the interface (connecting the hand to the patient), so we hope to see much more detailed movement and control of the hand.”

Still there are some unsolved problems with the bionic hand. One of them is whether patients will be able to tolerate having such a limb attached to them all the time, or whether they would need to remove it periodically to give them a rest. As well as is how to conceal the wiring under the patient’s skin to make them less obtrusive.

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