Scientists say the prospects of creating a truly bionic hand may soon be within reach. Swiss engineers are making progress in creating sophisticated implantable networks that connect a conventional hand prosthesis to the nerves, making for artificial limbs that feel and function like the real thing.
In a presentation this week at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, scientists from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne reported the promising results of a new clinical trial of a new line of “smart prosthetics” that use electrodes to connect them directly to amputees’ nerves.
By connecting the prosthetics to amputees’ nerves, researchers said the technology allows those with artificial limbs to experience “different types of touch feelings.” That, in turn, could one day allow amputees to better control hand prostheses.
"We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years," said Silvestro Micera, head of the institution’s Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory.
For an amputee, replacing a missing limb with a functional prosthetic can alleviate physical or emotional distress and allow for a return to normal daily activities. Studies show, however, that up to 50 percent of hand amputees still do not use their prosthesis regularly due to less than ideal functionality, appearance, and controllability.
Micera said the new line of smart prosthetics that connect directly to the nervous system could allow amputees to overcome those obstacles, by providing greater control of their limbs, a return to dexterity, and the sensation of touch.
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