With the help of a bionic hand, a man from Denmark became the first amputee in the world to feel sensory rich information in real time.
36-year-old Dennis Aabo Sørensen, who lost his left hand in an accident nine years ago, was able to feel with his hand again for the first time using a bionic hand, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) announced yesterday.
The result of collaboration between EPFL’s Center for Neuroprosthetics in Switzerland and other European universities and hospitals, the LifeHand 2 is a prosthetic hand wired to nerves in the upper arm.
The LifeHand 2 allowed Sørensen not only to grasp objects intuitively but also to identify what he was touching while wearing a blindfold and earplugs. “The sensory feedback was incredible,” Sørensen said. “I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years.”
Through a new sensory feedback channel in the prosthetic, Sørensen was able to detect how strongly he was grasping along with the shape and consistency of different objects. “When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square,” he said.
The sensory success was the result of a clinical trial that took place under the supervision of Paolo Maria Rossini at Gemelli Hospital in Italy. In order to connect the prosthetic hand to Sørensen’s nerves, Sørensen underwent surgery to have transneural electrodes implanted into the nerves of his left arm. After 19 days of testing the team connected the electrodes to the prosthetic every day for one week.
Though this clinical study represents the first step toward creating a true bionic hand, a sensory-enhanced prosthetic is still years away from going to market. Scientists still have to miniaturize the sensory feedback electronics involved in the prosthetic before they can be used in portable prosthetics. Scientists are also still fine-tuning the prosthetic’s sensory technology.