Man to get first bionic hand that can 'feel'

The new hand should be able to relay signals from a sensor to the man's brain, allowing him to feel what he touches.

Pierpaolo Petruzziello's arm linked with electrodes to a robotic hand.

Pierpaolo Petruzziello's arm linked with electrodes to a robotic hand.

(Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne)

A man who lost his hand in an accident is due to receive the first bionic hand designed to more fully simulate the sensation of feeling.

Scheduled for later this year, the surgery will connect the bionic hand directly to the man's nervous system. The goal is for him to not only move the hand but also receive touch signals from the sensors across the hand, according to a story published Sunday by The Independent.

Specifically, the hand would be attached through electrodes connected to the median and ulnar nerves, two of the main nerves in the human arm, Silvestro Micera, head of the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, explained. The surgery would let the man communicate with his bionic hand -- moving it by thinking and then recieving touch signals in response.

If successful, the procedure would be a breakthrough in creating sensitive prosthetics for amputees.

"This is real progress, real hope for amputees," Micera said at a meeting on Sunday of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to The Independent. "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. We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next year."

A 2009 version of the hand was attached to a man named Pierpaolo Petruzziello who had lost half of his arm in a car accident. But that model had only two sensory zones. The newer version has been refined to provide sensation from all fingertips as well as the palm and wrists, Micera said.

Petruzziello is the same person slated to receive the new version of the hand this year, according to Wired.

The process faces a couple of challenges. Can the man comfortably wear the bionic hand all the time or will he need to to remove it periodically? And where and how will doctors hide all of the necessary wiring?

The patient will wear the hand for a month to see how it fares. If the bionic hand fulfills its promise, Micera sees a working model becoming available for testing within two years.

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