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Touchy-Feely Bionic Hand Closer to Reality

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A new bionic hand

A bionic hand under development connects directly to the nervous system and could one day return dexterity and sensation to amputees, researchers say.

Credit: Prensilia

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researchers are developing a bionic hand featuring an interface that links the hand to a person's nervous system.

During a four-week clinical trial, the researchers found they could improve sensory feedback that an amputee received from bionics by using electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves in the arm near the stump.

The researchers also analyzed motor neural activity from the nerves and found that they could tease out signals related to grasping to help control a prosthetic hand placed near the amputee but not physically attached to the person's arm.

"We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years," says Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Silvestro Micera.

The researchers also announced a new clinical trial that will connect the prosthetic hand directly to a patient as part of the Italian Ministry of Health's NEMESIS project.

The researchers say future research could have amputees train for what bionic hands might feel like using virtual-reality experiments that could help them reconstruct their body images.

"In the medium term we'd like to have virtual-reality environments for training patients," Micera says.

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