HealthDay News — In what scientists say is a first, a robotic hand controlled by a patient’s own muscle and nerves appears to have restored complex hand function to a trio of amputees in Austria. The findings were reported online in The Lancet.
Oskar Aszmann, MD, director of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Restoration of Extremity Function at the Medical University of Vienna, and colleagues describe three patients who suffered brachial plexus injury to the hand following either a car crash or a mountain-climbing accident. In each case, neural connections were severed between the injured hand and a network of nerves in the neck that are crucial to hand and arm movement.
The process first involved long, presurgical patient training that centered on learning how to control a “virtual” hand by means of mind-over-muscle movement. This was followed by work with a hybrid prosthetic that was subsequently attached to the patient’s own damaged hand. After nine months, amputations of each patient’s damaged hand were done. Three months after that, each patient was outfitted with their own robotic hand, followed by more rehabilitation. The bionic hand works via sensors linked to a newly fashioned neural pathway, extracted from the patient’s own healthy muscle and nerve tissue, according to a journal news release.
All of the patients now have the ability to perform tasks that were previously impossible. Those tasks include pouring water from a jug, handling a key, cutting with a knife, undoing buttons, and picking up a ball. So far, the procedure has only been attempted in Vienna, Aszmann said in the news release. “However, there are no technical or surgical limitations that would prevent this procedure from being done in centers with similar expertise and resources,” he added.