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Surgery Restores Sense of Touch in Two Amputees

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Surgery Restores Sense of Touch in Two Amputees

A bionic hand that can also help restore the sense of touch to amputees could soon be developed thanks to new research that has enabled two patients to feel sensations.

bionic human arm marine Surgery Restores Sense of Touch in Two Amputees

A bionic hand that can also help restore the sense of touch to amputees could soon be developed thanks to new research that has enabled two patients to feel sensations.

artificial arm.thumbnail Surgery Restores Sense of Touch in Two AmputeesBoth patients Claudia Mitchell, 27, a former U.S. Marine who lost her left arm at the shoulder in a motorcycle accident three years ago, and Jesse Sullivan, 60, who lost both arms to electrical burns, were fitted with prosthesis by Dr. Todd Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago this past year. These two patients are the first patients to receive this revolutionary new process that is leading the advancements in prosthesis.

Dr. Kuiken used a new surgical technique that rerouted the nerves from their injured arms to the skin on the chest and now, thanks to the surgery, the two can sense pressure, temperature and pain as if their missing hands were still present.

bionic arm marine Surgery Restores Sense of Touch in Two Amputees

In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the two report that when they touch things or are touched, they can feel detailed sensations as if they had come from their phantom limbs.

“I just think about moving my hand and elbow, and they move. I think, ‘I want my hand open’ and it happens. My original prosthesis wasn’t worth wearing – this one is,” said Mitchell.

The promising results lead researchers to believe that an artificial arm that can actually reproduce feeling may be possible within as little as two years.

The advance is the latest of several recent developments by Kuiken, whose targeted reinnervation technique is pushing back the boundaries of artificial limb technology.

The new technique involves extending the nerves that would normally serve the hand to the upper chest. From here the electrical signals that are be picked up, are trained to guide the artificial limb. The limb is effectively controlled the mind, as sensors attached to the chest pick up electrical the cues from the rerouted arm nerves.

bionic human arm robot Surgery Restores Sense of Touch in Two Amputees

As well as giving amputees back their sense of touch, the breakthrough opens up the possibility that bionic limbs could be controlled more precisely through the power of thought.

“Our results illustrate a method for creating a portal to the sensory pathways of a lost limb,” Kuiken said. “This work offers the possibility that an amputee may one day be able to feel with an artificial limb as though it was his own. Sensors could be placed in a prosthetic hand to measure contact forces and temperature, while a device could press or thermally stimulate the reinnervated skin to provide sensory feedback that appropriately correlates to hand perception.”

The team’s ultimate goal is to attach pressure and temperature-sensitive sensors to the fingers and palm of a bionic hand. These will be able to send back electrical signals to the chest, where they will then stimulate the arm nerves and send sensations to the brain. Such feeling could greatly improve the range of movement available to patients using prosthetic limbs.

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