This week on Health Tech Weekly we look at an amazing advancement in artificial limbs that many experts consider the “holy grail” of prosthetics. One thing that an artificial hand can’t do currently is have a sense of touch. People with an artificial limb can’t feel what they pick up or grasp. Well, not until now, anyway.
A group of researchers and engineers in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital have come up with a way to transmit a sense of touch to the user of a prosthetic hand to help them sense what they are trying to grasp and to moderate how much force they apply to hold on to the object. Think about how you pick up something with your natural hand. You use feedback from your fingers and skin of your hand to sense how much force is needed to hold on to the object. Prosthetic hands have not had this sense and so they can sometimes crush soft objects when picking them up because the user had to use their visual sense alone to determine how much force to apply.
The engineers and doctors implanted two tiny electrodes into the nerves in a volunteer amputee’s stump. When these electrodes were stimulated, the man said he felt like his fingers were moving proving that the nerves still worked. Then they created a robotic loop between the electrodes and the prosthetic hand they developed that allowed the hand to communicate with the user. Suddenly, the man could sense the hardness and general shape of an object and adjust his grasp to hold on to things like a bottle or orange.
This is incredible and while it’s just a first step in a process to develop a fully functional sensing hand, you can start to see just how quickly the process is progressing. I truly believe that we are just a few years away from this being the standard of prosthetic for amputees and people with birth defects who don’t have functioning hands. I’ll keep on this story so stay tuned here to Health Tech Weekly in the future for more updates as this research continues to develop.
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I’m your host Jamie Davis, the Podmedic. I’ll be back soon with more health technology for you. In the meantime, remember that improving health takes small, simple steps that over time all add up to a healthier you. Why don’t you take a healthier step today?