In a remarkable breakthrough, a 50-year-old Swedish woman named Karin has been fitted with a cutting-edge bionic hand after losing her right hand in a farming accident. This groundbreaking prosthesis, based on revolutionary technology, connects directly to the user’s bones, muscles, and nerves, allowing for a seamless human-machine interface. The bionic hand has transformed Karin’s life, enabling her to regain a limited sense of touch and the ability to move all five fingers with a success rate of 95 percent.
Living without a hand for two decades had significantly impacted Karin’s everyday life. However, since receiving the bionic hand, she can now carry out approximately 80 percent of her usual daily activities. Tasks such as preparing food, picking up objects, zipping and unzipping clothes or bags, and turning doorknobs or screws have become possible once again. The functionality of the bionic hand has given Karin a newfound sense of independence and autonomy.
In addition to its functional benefits, the bionic hand has also provided relief from Karin’s excruciating phantom pain. Phantom pain is a common and debilitating condition experienced by amputees, where they feel pain in the missing limb. Karin described her phantom pain as feeling like her hand was going through a meat grinder. However, after receiving the prosthetic hand, her pain decreased significantly, allowing her to rely less on medication.
This groundbreaking technology was developed by an international team of engineers from Sweden, Italy, and Australia. They recently published their success in the prestigious journal Science Robotics. Led by robotics engineer Max Ortiz Catalán, the team introduced a bionic hand with internal electrodes. This approach is a significant departure from conventional hand prostheses, where sensory electrodes are placed on the outside. The external placement of sensors hinders the quality and quantity of sensory signals, limiting the control and functionality of the prosthetic device.
Over the last decade, Ortiz Catalán has been developing a better solution through the concept of osseointegration. This technique involves placing an implant into the bone, allowing bone cells to grow tightly around it. By directly attaching the artificial limb to the skeleton, the integration of biology and electronics becomes possible. In Karin’s case, two implants were placed in her ulna and radius bones, and a muscle graft from her leg was connected to them. These muscle grafts contained electrodes to amplify signals to the interface, providing a direct neural stimulation that is consistently and reliably perceived by the hand.
The direct anchoring of the prosthesis to the bone makes it more comfortable for patients to wear compared to conventional ball-and-socket prostheses. The prosthesis, named Mia Hand, was developed by the Italian company Prensilia, specializing in robotic and biomedical devices. Through this innovative technology, Karin’s grip precision improved by nearly four-fold compared to a conventional prosthesis.
The success of Karin’s bionic hand offers promising possibilities for the future of prosthetic technology. Professor Ortiz Catalán and his team are continuously developing next-generation bionic limb technology, primarily focusing on its potential to relieve phantom limb pain. Their ongoing research and development will pave the way for even more advanced and lifelike bionic prostheses.
The bionic hand represents a major breakthrough in the field of prosthetics. It has transformed the life of Karin, allowing her to regain functionality, decrease pain, and improve her overall quality of life. This revolutionary technology opens new doors for individuals facing limb loss, offering them the opportunity to regain both physical capabilities and a sense of normalcy. With further advancements, bionic prostheses hold tremendous potential to revolutionize the lives of countless people around the world.