Prosthetic hand gives amputee feeling againImagine losing an arm. You pick up your smartphone to read this and without even thinking about the thousands of advancements your phone has inevitably made to enable you to do that, the Doctor walks into the room and explains your choices.
Hook or hand?
Those are your choices, do you want a fake non-movable plastic hand, or would you prefer the hook? At that point you are probably wondering why they are now making smartphone watches, but you are stuck getting [almost] the same technology that was used during the civil war.
That has been the case, unfortunately, for the majority of the amputee population. Thankfully, that has slowly been changing. With advances in body armor and medicine, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are sending more people home missing limbs, than in body bags. Which has brought to the attention of several people that, with all our advances, we never bothered to design a better prosthetic.
Now, after a Denmark man lost his left hand in a fireworks accident, he is feeling things with his prosthetic hand for the first time, in nine years. Slowly turning science fiction, into science fact.
It works thanks to electrodes that are connected from sensors in the hand to the nerve endings in the arm. As he touches things with his prosthetic, electrical impulses from those sensors are are translated and sent to the nerve endings. The challenge was converting the electrical data into something the body could make sense of, and that has finally happened.
“Suddenly you could see my left hand was talking to my brain again and it was magic,” said Sørensen describing the first moment he could feel. “It was surreal. I grabbed the object in my hand and knew it was round. It was a baseball.”
— USA Today
Unfortunately, the electrodes that were implanted had to be removed after 30 days for safety reasons… for now. The next step in the study will involve implants that will stay in place for months. This will also give them time to make the device that processes the sensory information smaller and actually portable.
So how long will it take before the public can get their hands on something like this? The outlook isn’t too stellar, it looks like it will be another nine or ten years before you or I would ever be able to buy one.
But it does give hope that sometime, in the not so distant future the only questions the Doctor will be asking will be, ‘How’s it feel?’
Read the full technical paper here
Also watch a video of the hand in action: