Scientists have moved closer to enabling amputees with artificial limbs to feel what they are touching. The first bionic hand that will allow the wearer to experience touch again will enter trials later this year, thanks to the work of scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and their partners at Project TIME (Transverse Intrafaciscular Multichannel Electrode System) — a program focused on the treatment of phantom limb pain.
Silvestro Micera, one of the lead scientists at the EPFL, made the announcement at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston earlier this month. The new prosthetic is based on an interface tested in 2009 on an amputee, 26-year old Pierpaolo Petruzziello. Intraneural electrodes – small pieces of polymer wiring that can deliver electrical impulses directly to the nerve – were implanted into Petruzziello’s median and ulnar nerves. By analyzing his motor neural signals, researchers found that the information specific to grasping could be isolated among these signals from the nerves, and by feeding these back to the prosthetic hand, it was possible to flex and control it.