The most advanced artificial limb, a hand prosthesis that can be controlled by a human brain, making the limb to be felt as a natural one, was applied on a woman from Rome in June 2016 for testing. It was the first ever long term application of such a solution successfully completed bringing hope to those who suffered a traumatic amputation. The team of Silvestro Micera originally from the Nebias Future and Emerging Technologies EU scheme is now working on making the solution available to a larger public by preparing for a clinical trial with more patients and a fully implemented system.

Picture of the Italian lady using her artificial hand

The amputee that went through this test was Almerina Mascarello, a 48 year old Italian woman that lost two thirds of her dominant forearm during a work accident. Using the NEBIAS hand, Almerina performed functional tasks (for example objects’ recognition and sensing) inside and outside of the laboratory environment, in which the intraneural sensory feedback allowed her better performance.

The innovation behind the hand were the intraneural interfaces and personalized algorithms able to provide a stable and very selective connection with the nervous system. The system combined micro-technology and material science and allowed for two effects: on one hand, the recording of the motor-related signals governing the actions of the amputated hand/arm for the motion control of a mechanical prosthesis, and on the other hand,  providing sensory feedback from tactile and kinesthetic sensors through neuromorphic stimulation of the residual limb.

“It’s almost like it’s back again,” Almerina Mascarello told the BBC. “The feeling is spontaneous as if it were your real hand; you're finally able to do things that before were difficult, like getting dressed, putting on shoes—all mundane but important things—you feel complete."

The outcomes of the NEBIAS FET project did allow for the achievement of increased neuroscientific, clinical and technological knowledge, guidelines for the development of the other bidirectional interfaces and neural prostheses, as well as roadmaps for future development of hybrid bionic systems. They also contributed to improvement of both physical and psychological wellbeing of people that face a possibility to never sense with their fingertips again.


More information on the project:

Amputee feels texture with a bionic fingertip

EU supported project enables patients to control artificial limbs in real time

Restoring sensory feedback to amputees