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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Bionic Hand Can Feel

Published February 27, 2013 4:33 PM by Michael Jones

Oh, yes. You read that correctly. It seems a Swiss researcher’s recent development in prosthetics has brought us just a little bit closer to a Star Wars level of innovation. According to an article from NBC News, the prosthetic limb is a usable appendage controlled by brain function that allows a patient to experience crude feeling.

Silvestro Micera, of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, pioneered the bionic arm. According to the article, the artificial hand “works by tapping directly into the median and ulnar nerves in the arm, allowing signals from the brain to reach the limb -- and vice versa.” The implications of having sensation in a prosthetic could potentially change the way amputee patients adapt to an artificial limb, allowing for an altogether smoother rehabilitation and transition process.

“This two-way connection lets the limb be controlled directly by the brain’s motor skills instead of indirectly, though muscles in the arm or other means,” explained the NBC article. “But perhaps more importantly, it allows the limb to send feedback to the brain, giving crude, but functional sensation in the limb.”

While the bionic arm represents a breakthrough in both robotic science and medicine, it still has a long way to go before clinical trials. Apparently, “the neutral connection requires an implant that can only be left in for up to a month at a time,” which presents one of what seems to be multiple potential setbacks that will have to be improved upon before any serious action can be taken.

Despite being in the very earliest stages of development, Micera’s robotic arm could still mark the beginning of an entirely different era in prosthetics and treatment. Imagining the level of precision brought on by machinery, you have to wonder what the next steps for the laboratory. With advancements like bionic limbs, it’s hard not to think about the influence these technologies stand to have in a clinical setting.

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