A joint effort between Italy, Switzerland and Germany creates bionic hand that restores touch

January 8, 2018

An Italian woman, Almerina Mascarello, is the first patient in the world to test the first bionic hand able to restore the sense of touch. According to the head of Struttura Complessa of Neurology at the University Polyclinic in Rome, Paolo Maria Rossini, who followed the patient, “We have had performed surgery and follow-up for 5 people since 2009, during the experimentation of a bionic hand able to restore the sense of touch, and Almerina was the first woman, the first Italian and the first person to wear the implant for six months, even outside our labs. She went to the restaurant, picked flowers and did normal things in normal situations”.

Almerina had lost her left hand in an accident about 25 years ago, and is now extremely happy with her new bionic hand. She told BBC: “It’s almost like my old hand is back”.

In 2014, the same international group has created the first “sensitive” bionic hand, but the sensory and informatic equipment that connected the limb was still too big to allow the patient to leave the lab. Now, the technology has become small enough to be stored in a backpack, which the patient carries on her shoulders.

The team responsible for the project includes engineers, neuroscientists, surgeons, electronics specialists and robotics experts from Italy, Switzerland and Germany.

But how does this device work?

The prosthetic hand has sensors that detect information on the consistency of an object. These messages are sent to a computer in a backpack that converts the signals into a language that is understandable for the human brain. The information is then transmitted to the brain through small electrodes implanted in the nerves of the patient’s upper arm. During tests, Almerina – who was blindfolded – was able to tell if the object she was touching was hard or soft.

According the Almerina herself, the feeling is “very spontaneous”.


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