Pioneering Advancements in Prosthetic Technology: Bionic Hand Integrates Seamlessly with User’s Neurological and Skeletal Frameworks

by Santiago Fernandez
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Bionic Prosthetics

Pioneering Advancements in Prosthetic Technology: Bionic Hand Integrates Seamlessly with User’s Neurological and Skeletal Frameworks

A woman, who had lost her arm in an agricultural mishap and suffered from phantom limb pain, has been fitted with a revolutionary bionic limb that seamlessly connects with her nervous and skeletal systems, markedly enhancing her standard of living. This groundbreaking technology, developed by a cross-disciplinary team of experts, delivers an osseointegrated solution that guarantees secure mechanical coupling and dependable control, heralding a transformative epoch in the field of artificial limb replacements. Attribution: Ortiz-Catalan et al.

A Swedish female, who had her right hand severed in an agricultural accident, underwent an implantation procedure, incorporating an innovative human-machine interface with her residual bone, nerve fibers, and muscle tissue.

Two decades ago, Karin’s life was irrevocably altered when she lost her right arm in an agricultural catastrophe. She has since experienced debilitating phantom limb pain.

“It felt as though my hand was perpetually caught in a meat grinder, leading to an elevated stress level and a reliance on large doses of various analgesics.”

Beyond the unmanageable pain, she found that traditional prosthetic devices were both uncomfortable and inconsistent, offering little practical assistance in her everyday life. This status quo was radically changed when she was fitted with an advanced bionic mechanism that permitted her to don a significantly more functional prosthesis throughout the day. The higher degree of integration between the bionic device and Karin’s remaining limb also ameliorated her pain symptoms.

The first individual to undergo a below-elbow amputation and receive a bionic hand directly connected to her neuromusculoskeletal system. Attribution: Ortiz-Catalan et al., Sci. Rob., 2023

“This research endeavor has profoundly impacted my life, leading to a considerable enhancement in my living conditions.”

An Extraordinary Confluence of Human and Machine

The mechanical fastening and reliable operation of prosthetic limbs represent considerable challenges in the realm of artificial limb replacements. Individuals who have suffered limb loss frequently abandon even the most sophisticated commercially available prosthetic devices, citing discomfort in attachment and unreliable control as primary factors.

A team comprising engineers and medical professionals has addressed these issues by creating a human-machine interface that facilitates the secure attachment of the prosthesis to the user’s skeletal structure via osseointegration, while also establishing an electrical connection with the nervous system through electrodes embedded in nerves and muscle fibers.

Description and exhibition of the inaugural below-elbow neuromusculoskeletal prosthetic device. Attribution: Ortiz-Catalan et al., Sci. Rob., 2023

The study was spearheaded by Prof. Max Ortiz Catalan, Director of Neural Prosthetics Research at the Bionics Institute in Australia and founder of the Center for Bionics and Pain Research (CBPR) in Sweden.

“Karin was the inaugural recipient of this novel, highly integrated bionic hand that has proven to be both independent and reliable in her everyday activities. Her successful, long-term utilization of this prosthesis stands as a compelling indicator of the revolutionary potential this technology holds for individuals confronted with limb loss.”

The inherent challenges for prosthetic fitting in the below-elbow amputation context include ensuring equal alignment and load distribution across the two bones—radius and ulna—and managing the limited space available for implantation and prosthetic components. Despite these challenges, the research group successfully engineered an appropriate neuromusculoskeletal implant that facilitates the communication between the user’s biological control system—the nervous system—and the electronic control system of the prosthesis.

“Our consolidated surgical and engineering methodologies also contribute to the alleviation of pain, as Karin is now leveraging similar neural pathways to control the prosthetic hand as she did for her absent biological hand.”

Mitigating post-amputation pain is another central objective of Prof. Ortiz Catalan’s team. On this subject, Karin noted that she now has “enhanced control over my prosthesis, and most importantly, my pain levels have diminished. Currently, my medicinal requirements are significantly reduced.”

A cornerstone of this new bionic technology is its skeletal anchoring through osseointegration; a process whereby bone tissue securely affixes to titanium, ensuring robust mechanical coupling.

Prof. Rickard Brånemark, research affiliate at MIT, associate professor at Gothenburg University, and CEO of Integrum, led the surgical team and has been instrumental in osseointegration applications in human prosthetic limb care: “The biological fusion of titanium implants with bone tissue opens up unprecedented avenues for the future of amputee treatment. By amalgamating osseointegration, reconstructive surgery, embedded electrodes, and artificial intelligence, we are revolutionizing human functionality. The challenges specific to below-elbow amputations have been surmounted, marking a significant milestone in the field of advanced extremity reconstructions.”

The neuromuscular structures in the residual limb were reconfigured to provide additional motor control data to the prosthetic device.

Dr. Paolo Sassu conducted this segment of the surgical procedure at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden, where he also directed the first hand transplantation in Scandinavia: “Depending on individual clinical conditions, we can offer our patients either biological solutions, like hand transplants, or bionic solutions with neuromusculoskeletal prostheses. We are making continual advancements in both fields.” Dr. Sassu is currently affiliated with the Istituto Ortopedico Rizzoli in Italy and the Center for Bionics and Pain Research in Sweden.

“The DeTOP project, funded by the European Commission,” notes Coordinator Prof. Christian Cipriani, from Scuola Sant’Anna, Pisa, “has facilitated a highly productive collaboration that consolidates cutting-edge prosthetic and robotic technologies available in our institutions, which have the potential to radically transform human lives.”

The robotic hand developed by Prensilia, named Mia Hand, features distinctive motor and sensory elements that enable the user to complete approximately 80% of daily activities. “User acceptance is crucial for the successful utilization of the prosthesis,” says Dr. Francesco Clemente, Managing Director of Prensilia. “In addition to technical capabilities, Prensilia has striven to develop a hand that can be fully customized in appearance. Mia Hand was designed to be showcased, not concealed. Our aim is for users to feel pride in their new abilities, rather than a sense of loss.”

Reference: “A Highly Integrated Bionic Hand with Neural Control and Feedback for Use in Daily Life” by Max Ortiz-Catalan, Jan Zbinden, Jason Millenaar, Daniele D’Accolti, Marco Controzzi, Francesco Clemente, Leonardo Cappello, Eric J. Earley, Enzo Mastinu, Justyna Kolankowska, Maria Munoz-Novoa, Stewe Jönsson, Christian Cipriani, Paolo Sassu, and Rickard Brånemark, published on 11 October 2023, in Science Robotics. DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.adf7360

The project was primarily funded by the European Commission under its Horizon 2020 program, named DeTOP (GA #687905). Additional financing was provided by the Promobilia Foundation, the IngaBritt and Arne Lundbergs Foundation, and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Bionic Prosthetics

What is the breakthrough technology in prosthetic limbs discussed in the article?

The article discusses a revolutionary advancement in the field of prosthetic limbs, specifically a bionic hand that is highly integrated with the user’s nervous and skeletal systems. The device was developed by a multidisciplinary team of engineers and surgeons and is aimed at significantly improving the quality of life for amputees.

Who was the first recipient of this advanced bionic hand?

The first recipient of this advanced bionic hand is a Swedish woman named Karin who had lost her right arm in a farming accident over 20 years ago. She had been enduring significant phantom limb pain until she received this new prosthetic.

What problem does this new bionic technology aim to solve?

The technology aims to solve the problem of discomfort and unreliable control associated with conventional prosthetic limbs. By integrating with the user’s skeleton and nervous system, it offers a more natural and reliable mechanical attachment and control.

What is osseointegration and how is it utilized in this bionic hand?

Osseointegration is the process by which bone tissue fuses with an implant, in this case, titanium, to create a strong mechanical connection. This bionic hand utilizes osseointegration to attach comfortably and stably to the user’s residual limb.

Who led the research and development of this advanced prosthetic?

The research was led by Prof. Max Ortiz Catalan, who is the head of neural prosthetics research at the Bionics Institute in Australia and founder of the Center for Bionics and Pain Research (CBPR) in Sweden.

How is the bionic hand controlled?

The bionic hand is controlled through a human-machine interface that allows electrical connection with the nervous system via electrodes implanted in nerves and muscles. This enables the user to have reliable and natural control over the prosthetic limb.

What institutions and projects funded the research?

The research was funded by multiple entities including the European Commission under Horizon 2020 through the DeTOP project, the Promobilia Foundation, the IngaBritt and Arne Lundbergs Foundation, and the Swedish Research Council.

Is this technology focused on any specific type of amputation?

Yes, the technology is particularly focused on individuals with below-elbow amputations. This level of amputation presents unique challenges that the research team has managed to address effectively.

What does the new technology mean for the treatment and prevention of post-amputation pain?

The new technology has shown potential in reducing post-amputation pain, as demonstrated by the first recipient, Karin, who reported a significant decrease in her use of pain medication.

How customizable is the bionic hand?

The bionic hand developed by Prensilia, named Mia Hand, features unique motor and sensory components and is designed to be fully customizable aesthetically. This is to ensure that users can feel proud of their prosthetic.

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