Artificial sensors restore sense of touch to prosthetic hand

Hand prostheses equipped with artificial sensors could help amputee patients feel differences in an objects shape and stiffness, according to recent study results published in Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers used electrical stimulation to jump start residual sensory fibers in the residual limb of one patient’s amputated hand. The patient had not experienced the sensation of touch for 10 years. Surgically inserted prosthetic sensors relayed information via microelectrodes implanted into the patient’s nervous system. Researchers then performed a series of experiments with a prosthetic hand, by testing its ability to increase or decrease grasp force and gauge the shape and stiffness of objects.

Researchers found the patient was able to experience almost-natural sensory feelings similar to his remaining hand, without any particular training. The patient was also able to distinguish the different consistencies of hard, medium and soft objects, and to recognize the basic shapes of objects, such as the cylinder of a bottle and the sphere of a baseball.

Future research will test the feeling prosthetic hand with more patients and study the long-term usability of the technology.

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