Prosthetic provides sense of touch to man who lost hand

Electrodes let him feel the difference between baseball and mandarin orange

REACH OUT AND TOUCH ME  A hand prosthesis allowed its wearer to once again feel the stiffness and shape of objects. 

LifeHand 2/Patrizia Tocci

A new prosthetic hand allows its wearer to feel a firm orange, a fluffy cotton ball and a hard piece of wood. The device, described in the February 5 Science Translational Medicine, restored a man’s sense of touch by stimulating nerves in his arm. 

After Dennis Aabo Sørensen lost part of his left arm in a fireworks accident, researchers implanted electrodes onto his remaining arm nerves. When his prosthetic hand touched an object, these electrodes zapped Sørensen’s nerves, which then sent touch signals to his brain.

With this prosthetic hand, a blindfolded Sørensen was able to feel the differences between a baseball, a bottle and a mandarin orange, Silvestro Micera of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and colleagues report. The device joins other prosthetics designed to convey the sensation of touch (SN: 11/16/13, p. 12), an improvement that will help prosthetics seamlessly integrate with the body.

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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