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  • New System Delivers Sense of Touch From Prosthetic Hand

    A new development in prosthetic hands is not only restoring a sense of touch to individuals with amputations, but seems to be making a significant impact in reducing phantom limb pain.

    Researchers from Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center have found a way to attach sensors to mechanized prosthetic hands that feed touch sensations to nerve bundles in the patient's arm. The connection allows users to actually feel sensations of pressure and texture—video of the system shows a user picking up and holding a cherry delicately enough between finger and thumb to pluck off its stem without crushing the fruit. Another photo shows a user squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

    The process involves wrapping nerve bundles in cuffs that contain contact points. These points are related to specific sensors in areas of the prosthetic hand, and are able to deliver sensations that users recognize as touch. So far, 2 subjects have been involved in the development of the technology over the past 2 years, with 1 subject able to experience touch sensation in 16 points on the prosthetic hand, and the other able to perceive touch across 19 points.

    The new technology has an additional benefit: the test users reported that the prostheses equipped with touch sensation nearly eliminated phantom limb pain. Researchers are unsure why the pain has been reduced.

    The system is classified as an investigational device, but researchers hope to develop a take-home version in the next few months, and a fully operational model ready for wider implementation in 5 to 10 years.

    A report on the research appears in the October 8 issue of Science Translational Medicine (abstract only available for free), accompanied by a video interview with one of the study's authors that includes footage of the new system. News of the report surfaced on media outlets including NBC News and US News and World Report.