Prosthetic Hand With Feeling: Re-Creating The Brain-Hand Connection

Melissa Healy | Los Angeles Times | February 5, 2014

The human hand is a wonder of strength, sensitivity and discrimination — not only because of those four fingers and the opposable thumb, but also because of the human brain that controls it. No wonder, then, that for those who design hand prostheses, re-creating the natural dexterity of the brain-powered hand is a daunting challenge.

But a new study demonstrates that, with the aid of some artificial sensors and electrodes sunk into a user’s arm, a prosthetic hand can be made to detect the need for a firm grasp or a light touch, to make fine distinctions between an object’s texture, weight and size, and to respond accordingly with no detectable delay.

The latest report, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, marks another key step in the effort to enhance the function of prosthetic limbs by devising “brain-machine interfaces.” In bioengineering labs across the world, engineers and brain scientists are working to re-create the connection that once existed between the brain and the lost limb and transfer it to the new prosthetic limb.