Bionic reconstruction is a new technique, devised by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and engineers from the University Medical Center Goettingen. It has enabled three Austrian men to control a robotic prosthetic arm with their mind and use it in everyday activities.
The three patients suffered from brachial plexus injuries which occur when the nerves from the neck region to the upper limbs are damaged. Professor Aszmann, lead researcher, elucidated: “In effect, brachial plexus avulsion injuries represent an inner amputation, irreversibly separating the hand from neural control… We were able to create and extract new neural signals via nerve transfers amplified by muscle transplantation. These signals were then decoded and translated into solid mechatronic hand function.”
The Austrian men participated in cognitive training for about 9 months before their amputation. The aim was to activate the muscles in the injured limb and to teach them how to use electrical signals to control a virtual hand and a hybrid hand – a prosthetic hand attached to their own impaired hand.
After the imputation, these first three men to undergo bionic reconstruction experienced less pain and had better functional movement in their robotic prosthetic hands. They could perform daily activities, such as pouring water from a jug, using a key, cutting food with a knife, etc.
Professor Simon Kay, who carried out the first hand transplant in the UK, and Daniel Wilks from Leeds Teaching Hospital commented: “The final verdict will depend on long-term outcomes, which should include assessment of in what circumstances and for what proportion of their day patients wear and use their prostheses. Compliance declines with time for all prostheses, and motorised prostheses are heavy, need power, and are often noisy, as well as demanding skilled repair when damaged.”