The first ever bionic hand that allows patients to feel again will be transplanted into a human this year, according to the researchers who have developed it.
The patient — currently unnamed — is in his 20s and lives in Rome. He'll have the new hand, shown in the picture, connected directly to his nervous system, and it's hoped he'll be able to control the movements of the hand as well as receiving touch signals from the hand's skin sensors. This could be huge — and the researchers behind it certainly think so, too. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston, Dr Silvestro Micera explained:
"This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping. It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb. We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next year.
"The idea would be that it could deliver two or more sensations. You could have a pinch and receive information from three fingers, or feel movement in the hand and wrist. We have refined the interface [connecting the hand to the patient], so we hope to see much more detailed movement and control of the hand."
Initially, the patient will wear the bionic hand for a month to see how he adapts to its presence. It's unclear if the body can cope with such a device being permanently attached — but these tests should shed light on that problem. If all goes to plan, similar, fully working models could be available clinically within two years, according to Micera. [Independent via WIRED UK]