• Switzerland's news in English

EPFL helps pioneer 'feeling' bionic hand

AFP · 5 Feb 2014, 21:55

Published: 05 Feb 2014 21:55 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The success of the month-long trial in Italy has energized researchers in the hunt to solve one of the most difficult challenges in prosthetics.
Until now, moveable prosthetic hands have returned no sensation to the wearer and have been difficult to control, meaning the user could crush an object while trying to grasp it.
"For the first time we were able to restore real time sensory feeling in an amputee while he was controlling this sensorized hand," said lead author Silvestro Micera.
The study was led by Micera and Stanisa Raspopovic and colleagues at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the BioRobotics Institute in Pisa, Italy.
Their findings appear in the US peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine.
"When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square," said Dennis Aabo Sorenson, a 36-year-old man from Denmark who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident.
"I could feel things that I hadn't been able to feel in over nine years," he added, describing the sensation as "incredible."
Sorenson was fitted with a bulky mechanical hand that had several advanced sensors in each of the fingertips.
Those sensors delivered electrical signals through wires to several electrodes that were surgically implanted into his upper arm.
Even though his nerves had not been used in nearly a decade, scientists were able to reactivate his sense of touch.
Wearing a blindfold and earplugs for the trial, which took place last year in Rome at Gemelli Hospital, Sorenson found he could tell the difference between a mandarin orange and a baseball.
He could also feel whether he was holding soft tissue, a hard piece of wood, or a flimsy plastic cup.
Sorenson joked that his children called him "The Cable Guy," when they saw all the wires coming out of his arm, hooking him up to the stationary hand, which was posed on a table.
Sorenson's implant was removed after 30 days due to safety restrictions, but experts believe the electrodes could stay in for years without problem.
More tests are ongoing. Researchers are working to refine the sensory abilities of the prosthetic hand and make it portable by miniaturizing the electronics.
A mass-market sensory prosthetic is at least five years away from being developed, according to the team.
In the meantime, Sorenson has returned to using his old prosthetic hand, which opens and closes when he squeezes or relaxes a muscle in his arm, but does not allow him to feel what he touches.
Researchers who were not involved with the study said the work offers a promising new step towards a bionic hand.
"This new advance seems to represent another step forward in creating a more precise man-machine interface," said Richard Frieden, assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
David Gow, director of rehabilitation engineering services and bioengineering at NHS Lothian in Scotland, said that although the work involved a single case study, the method appears "practical."
"This opens up exciting possibilities for artificial limb users," he added.

Check out the YouTube video produced to illustrate the research, here.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Protect Swiss waterways or lose our fish': WWF
Photo: Richi Stadelmann/WWF

Eighty-five percent of fish species in Switzerland are under threat, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

SBB pilots new annual pass – costing 12,200 francs
The 'door-to-door' pass includes use of an electric car. Photo: SBB

Swiss federal railways (SBB) is looking for 100 people willing to pilot a new annual transport pass that includes use of an electric car.

Immigration to Switzerland falls as emigration rises
File photo: The Local

Immigration in Switzerland has fallen considerably this year, according to official figures.

Wawrinka aces his way into Basel quarterfinals
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The home favourite returns to the quarterfinals of the Swiss Indoors for the first time in five years.

Illegal immigrant dies after setting himself on fire
The victim was treated at University Hospital Zurich. Photo: University Hospital Zurich

The 45-year-old Tunisian was threatened with deportation.

Swiss government rejects call for second immigration vote
Photo: Justus Blumer/Christophe G

The Swiss government has rejected a popular initiative calling for a revote on plans to limit immigration.

Bern: companies should report salary inequality by law
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The Swiss government wants to force small companies to examine their rates of pay every four years.

Husband in custody after Orbe body identified
File photo: Bas Leenders

The deceased is a 55-year-old woman who lived in the house with her husband.

Presented by MoneyPark
How to get a mortgage in Switzerland
Houses in Zürich. Photo: Pixabay.

Ready to buy? Here’s what you need to know as an expat about Swiss regulations, how to finance your purchase, and why you should use a broker.

Autumn in Switzerland: ten stunning Instagram photos
Photo: Swiss Tourism/Jan Geerk

Switzerland is beautiful in all seasons, but as these photos show, autumn is a special time in the alpine country.

Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: The Local
Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
Photo: Antoni Da Campo
Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
Photo: Randy Kashka
Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
jobs available