A video shows an incredible bionic arm moving ‘like a human hand’ controlled by the patient’s thoughts.
The modern prosthetic, designed by engineers, gives hope to amputees who have to rely on plastic moulds with barely any dexterity.
Scientists created a so-called ‘nerve interface’ which picks up tiny electrical signals coming from the remaining nerves of an amputee’s upper arm.
It has allowed patients to use just their thoughts to precisely move the fingers and thumbs of their artificial hand, even enabling them to play rock, paper, scissors.
The Mobius Bionics LUKE arm, developed by a medical device company in the US, has been tested on four patients.
Amputee Joe Hamilton said using the prosthetic is like ‘having a hand again’ after he was able to place tiny building blocks on top of each other.
Professor Paul Cederna, who co-lead the research at the University of Michigan, said: ‘This is the biggest advance in motor control for people with amputations in many years.’
Hopes have been raised for amputees after scientists tapped into their nerves to allow them to control a prosthetic hand with their thoughts
Scientists used a piece of muscle to ‘amplify’ the normally-tiny electrical signals coming from the remaining nerves in the arms of amputees
Professor Cederna added: ‘We have developed a technique to provide individual finger control of prosthetic devices using the nerves in a patient’s residual limb.
‘With it, we have been able to provide some of the most advanced prosthetic control that the world has seen.’
It has previously been very difficult for patients to control their prosthetic limbs with their thoughts because the signals coming from nerves are so tiny.
This has allowed patients to use just their thoughts to precisely move the fingers and thumbs of their artificial limbs, without any learning necessary. Pictured: Patient Joe Hamilton moves his new finger and thumb effortlessly
Professor Paul Cederna, who co-lead the research at the University of Michigan, said: ‘This is the biggest advance in motor control for people with amputations in many years.’ Pictured: Patient Karen Sussex lifts a tin of tomato paste with her prosthetic hand
As well as this, most current prosthetics only give amputees a limited range of movement.
The University of Michigan team wrapped tiny muscle grafts, known as regenerative nerve interfaces (RPNIs), around the nerve endings in patients’ arms.
HOW IS THE MOBIOUS BIONICS LUKE ARM DIFFERENT?
The arm, which has been developed by scientists at the University of Michigan, is controlled entirely by a patient’s thoughts.
Similar existing prosthetic arms use what is known as a nerve interface to pick up the signals coming from patients’ nerves.
However, the signals coming from nerves are very faint and this means that prosthetics controlled by thoughts have limited movement.
And attempts to harness the signals are invasive, leading to scar tissue developing over time, which further dulls the signals coming from the nerves.
But the scientists, led by Professor Paul Cederna, wrapped tiny bits of muscle around nerve endings in the arms of the four amputees who took part in the study.
This amplified the signals and turned them into muscle signals.
They then used electrodes implanted into the muscle grafts to pick up the signals and pass them to the LUKE arm in real time.
The approach led to the largest voltage recorded voltage coming from the nerves, compared to all previous attempts.
This means that signals for individual fingers and thumbs can be picked up, allowing patients very precise, quick and complex movements.
These bits of muscle provided new tissue for the nerves to latch on to, effectively giving the nerves a megaphone and amplifying the signals coming from them.
The muscle grafts also prevented the growth of masses called neuromas, which are growths around nerves that can lead to phantom limb pain, pins and needles and numbness.
It was tested on four patients who were able to to pick up blocks with a pincer grasp and move their thumb in a continuous motion using their thought.
In addition, they were able to lift round objects and even play a version of the rock, paper, scissors game.
The patients had electrodes implanted into their muscle grafts.
These picked up the signals coming from their nerves and passed them on to the prosthetic hand in real time.
The technology removes the need for patients to learn how to use their prosthetic limb because they intuitively move it as they would a normal hand.
The approach has led to the largest voltage recorded coming from nerves compared to all previous attempts.
The improvement means that scientists were able to pick up signals which they could not previously detect.
This gave patients very precise co-ordination, meaning they could make quick and complex movements with their fingers and thumbs.
The new nerve interface also worked for up to 300 days in the lab without needing to be readjusted.
Although patients have only been able to test the new arm in the lab, amputee Joe Hamilton, from Flint, Michigan, was impressed.
Mr Hamilton, who lost his hand in a firework accident in 2013, said: ‘It brings you back to a sense of normalcy, it’s like you have a hand again.
‘It brought back into my mind the thought of, “well if I had something like this I could actually be out working without risking hurting myself”.’
And Karen Sussex, who also benefited from the new approach, said: ‘I think it’s a really good step into the future. It’s a good way to move forward, not only for me but for other people.’
Professor Chestek added: ‘This opens up a whole new world for people who are upper limb prosthesis users.’
The scientist said the new approach has ‘leapfrogged’ the capabilities of prosthetic hands which are available at the moment.
The findings were reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The University of Michigan researchers wrapped tiny bits of muscle, known as regenerative nerve interfaces (RPNIs) around the nerve endings in patients’ arms
The approach allows patients very precise co-ordination, meaning they can make quick and complex movements with their fingers and thumbs