Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed a system that allows a patient to feel objects in his prosthetic hand. In partnership with the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dustin Pyler leads a seven-member team that is working on the project.
The first step was to wrap conductive leads around nerve bundles in the patient’s forearm. The researchers found that by stimulating these leads, the patient was able to distinguish among 19 different locations. He has been able to associate these with different positions on his hand, including fingertips and the palm. Sensors in these positions make it possible for him to differentiate between different textures, such as sandpaper or ridges.
At present, the system only exists in the lab, but the researchers are hopeful that in five years or so, they may be able to develop a system that can be implanted. This would provide a wearable prosthetic that could not just move but would also provide essential feedback to make the hand useful in practical settings.