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Bionics breakthrough: Amputee tests prosthetic hand with fingers that feel

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bionics researchers have made a breakthrough, creating a new hand for amputees with fingers that allow the wearer to actually feel sensations.

And the Danish man who was first outfitted with it summed it in a single word: "Amazing," he said, BBC reported.

The hand was connected to nerves in Dennis Aabo's upper arm, using a multitude of external cables and computer software, scientists explained. He spent a month in the lab, undergoing an operation and tests. Lab tests then confirmed that he was able to tell the difference in shape and stiffness of various objects he handled with the bionic hand — even blindfolded, BBC reported.

"It is the first time that an amputee has had real-time touch sensation from a prosthetic device," said Prof. Silvestro Micera, one of the researchers on the international team, in the Science Translational Medicine.

The big deal with the technology is that it's not the hand — but rather the electronics and software — that provide the sensory alerts to the brain. The researchers made the discovery by developing complex computer algorithms that transmit and transform electrical signals for the sensory nerves to ultimately interpret, BBC said.

Mr. Aabo, 36, lost his hand a decade ago in a fireworks accident. The hand he was given is just a prototype — and he had to undergo another operation to remove it, due to safety laws surrounding clinical trials — but the successful lab tests are spurring high hopes.

"The biggest difference was when I grabbed something, I could feel what I was doing without having to look," said Mr. Aabo. "I could use the hand in the dark. It was intuitive to use, and incredible to be able to feel whether objects were soft or hard, square or round."

The international team is trying now to make the technology smaller, and the cables fully implantable, so it could be used in the home.

"We must get rid of the external cables and make them fully implantable," said Prof. Thomas Stieglitz, another researcher, to the BBC.

Researchers think it will be another 10 years or so before the bionic hand is available to the commercial market.

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