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Mind-controlled prosthetic arm that amputees can feel to hit trials this year

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 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne HAND
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne HAND

Researchers have developed a prototype prosthetic hand that sends information two ways: from the brain to the hand and vice versa. The mind-controlled hand, which is connected by electrodes to two of the primary nerves in the arm, is being called "the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping" by Silvestro Micera of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who is leading work on the project.

Yesterday, at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Micera revealed the results of a four-week trial from 2009 in which an earlier prototype of the hand was attached to an amputee named Pierpaolo Petruzziello. Intraneural electrodes implanted into his arm allowed him to communicate with — and receive information from — the prosthetic, though the device wasn't attached directly to his arm for the trial. Petruzziello was able to move the bionic hand's fingers and grasp items (see video below), and he reported that he could feel when it was pricked with needles. The trial reinforced researchers' findings that they could decode nerve signals received from the brain to control the prosthetic, and that they could send senses of feeling back to the brain.

Now, researchers have announced plans for a new clinical trial in which an unnamed Italian man in his 20s who lost his arm in an accident will have a new prototype of the device attached to his body for a month. The new version provides sensory feedback from the fingers, palm, and wrists, according to a report from The Independent. Like the previous trial, wires from the electrodes that provide communication between the subject and the prosthetic will be external, and it isn't safe for the patient to be connected for more than a month. The development is the latest in a line of improvements in limb replacement, like the research from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Center for Bionic Medicine that let a man climb the Willis Tower with a mind-controlled "bionic" leg.