Amputee Feels Texture with a Bionic Fingertip

An amputee was able to feel smoothness and roughness in real-time with an artificial fingertip that was surgically connected to nerves in his upper arm. Moreover, the nerves of non-amputees can also be stimulated to feel roughness, without the need of surgery, meaning that prosthetic touch for amputees can now be developed and safely tested on intact individuals.

The technology to deliver this sophisticated tactile information was developed by Silvestro Micera and his team at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and SSSA (Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna) together with Calogero Oddo and his team at SSSA. The results, published in eLife, provide new and accelerated avenues for developing bionic prostheses, enhanced with sensory feedback.

"The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand," says amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen about the artificial fingertip connected to his stump. He continues, "I still feel my missing hand, it is always clenched in a fist. I felt the texture sensations at the tip of the index finger of my phantom hand."

Sørensen is the first person in the world to recognize texture using a bionic fingertip connected to electrodes that were surgically implanted above his stump.

Nerves in Sørensen's arm were wired to an artificial fingertip equipped with sensors. A machine controlled the movement of the fingertip over different pieces of plastic engraved with different patterns, smooth or rough. As the fingertip moved across the textured plastic, the sensors generated an electrical signal. This signal was translated into a series of electrical spikes, imitating the language of the nervous system, then delivered to the nerves.

Sørensen could distinguish between rough and smooth surfaces 96% of the time.

In a previous study, Sorensen's implants were connected to a sensory-enhanced prosthetic hand that allowed him to recognize shape and softness. In this new publication about texture in the journal eLife, the bionic fingertip attains a superior level of touch resolution.

Simulating touch in non-amputees
This same experiment testing coarseness was performed on non-amputees, without the need of surgery. The tactile information was delivered through fine, needles that were temporarily attached to the arm's median nerve through the skin. The non-amputees were able to distinguish roughness in textures 77% of the time.

But does this information about touch from the bionic fingertip really resemble the feeling of touch from a real finger? The scientists tested this by comparing brain-wave activity of the non-amputees, once with the artificial fingertip and then with their own finger. The brain scans collected by an EEG cap on the subject's head revealed that activated regions in the brain were analogous.

The research demonstrates that the needles relay the information about texture in much the same way as the implanted electrodes, giving scientists new protocols to accelerate for improving touch resolution in prosthetics.

"This study merges fundamental sciences and applied engineering: it provides additional evidence that research in neuroprosthetics can contribute to the neuroscience debate, specifically about the neuronal mechanisms of the human sense of touch," says Calogero Oddo of the BioRobotics Institute of SSSA. "It will also be translated to other applications such as artificial touch in robotics for surgery, rescue, and manufacturing."

The research was carried out by EPFL and SSSA in collaboration with Università di Pisa, IRCCS San Raffaele Pisana, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Università Campus Biomedico"

Most Popular Now

The Digital Revolution in Medicine is Ta…

13 - 16 November 2017, Düsseldorf, Germany. The MEDICA HEALTH IT FORUM at the world’s leading medical trade fair, MEDICA 2017, taking place in Düsseldorf with over 5,000 exhibitors, offers an...

FDA Selects Participants for New Digital…

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the names of the companies selected to participate in a first-of-its kind pilot program that will help revolutionize digital health regulation in...

Future50: Nominate the Top Healthcare IT…

HIMSS Europe has launched Future50 supported by IBM Watson Health, a new flagship initiative that aims to identify and bring together the top 50 leaders in European Healthcare IT in...

Smartphone Apps Launched for Atrial Fibr…

Novel smartphone and tablet applications (apps) for atrial fibrillation patients and healthcare professionals have been launched by heart experts. The objectives and design of the apps are outlined in a...

UBM Strengthens Focus on Medtec Europe f…

17 - 19 April 2018, Stuttgart, Germany. UBM announced today the continuation of its strategy to ensure Medtec Europe is the preeminent, stand alone, European-focussed, medical technology platform by deciding to...

IBM Research and UC San Diego Collaborat…

IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the University of California San Diego have announced a multi-year project to enhance quality of life and independence for aging populations through the new Artificial Intelligence...

Up to $20,000 Available to the Digital H…

MSD is looking for innovators to solve 7 health-related challenges aiming to support physician education or patient disease management. The 3 digital solutions with the most outstanding value will receive...

Wye Valley NHS Trust Goes Live with IMS …

Staff across Wye Valley NHS Trust's four hospitals and community facilities now have a single, shared view of their patients’ records following the deployment of their new electronic patient record...

Online Parent Training Helps Young Kids …

Parents of children with ADHD can feel desperate for resources or treatments to help their children who struggle with inattention, distractibility and impulsiveness affecting school and home. Researchers at Lehigh...

Allscripts Closes Acquisition of McKesso…

Allscripts (NASDAQ:MDRX), a global leader in healthcare technology, has closed its acquisition of McKesson Corporation's hospital and health system IT business, known as the Enterprise Information Solutions (EIS) business. The...