New technology restores thermal sensation in “phantom” limbs of amputees

New bionic technology allows amputees to regain the ability to sense temperature in their phantom hand. This breakthrough is being spearheaded by scientists from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPF) in Switzerland. For the investigation, they developed a non-invasive tool called MiniTouch that gives temperature input about the object being touched.

“Temperature feedback is essential for relaying information that goes beyond touch, it leads to feelings of affection. We are social beings and warmth is an important part of that,” said Silvestro Micera, Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Translational Neuroengineering, who co-led this study, in an official release. “For the first time, after many years of research in my laboratory showing that touch and position information can be successfully delivered, we envisage the possibility of restoring all of the rich sensations that one’s natural hand can provide,” Micera added.

In the future, this technology may be integrated into wearable devices such as prosthetics. New sensors will be included in prosthetic limbs to provide amputees with a more realistic sensory experience.

The researchers gathered around 27 volunteers for the trials over the course of two years. The technology was successfully tested on 17 patients. Numerous individuals claimed that they felt reconnected to their missing hand.

An amputee’s prosthetic finger can be covered by a tiny, wearing sensor that is part of the new technology, according to the official press release. The findings showed that the sensor was capable of detecting thermal data regarding the kind of object being touched. For instance, a metallic object will produce more heat or cold than a plastic one.

On the skin of the amputee’s remaining arm, thermal electrodes (also known as thermodes) were applied to track temperature. The thermodes then gave information regarding the thing that the finger sensor was touching.

The group’s next objective is to perfect temperature sensations and include them in a wearable gadget.

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