Nine years after an accident that caused the loss of his left hand, Dennis Aabo Sorensen from Denmark was able to feel natural sensorial information thanks to a prosthetic hand that was surgically wired to nerves into his upper arm. A prototype of this biomeccatronic limb was implanted in March 2013 during a clinical trial at Policlinico Gemelli, in Rome, Italy. It was named OpenHand and developed by ArtsLab of BioRobotics Institute of Scuola Superiore San’Anna (Pisa, Italy) on the basis of a technology of Silvestro Micera and his team.

The results of the study were published in the February 2014 issue of the “Science Translational Medicine” journal and represent a collaboration between several European universities and hospitals. In the trial, it has been demonstrated that the hand is able to connect directly with the patient’s brain by means of four trans-neural electrodes implanted into the ulnar and median nerves of the patient’s stump. Tactile sensors on the tips of his fingers sent to the brain digitally refined signals allowing Mr. Sorensen to feel the shape, the consistency and the position of different objects.

The prosthesis was implanted directly on the stump of the patient’s arm through a specifically tailored device produced by Ortopedia Italiana (Frosinone, Italy), one of the DTB2|NEUROHAND project teams. Paolo Dario (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna) at the end of the ’80s started a project to develop a prosthetic hand with neural control – with electrodes implanted in the peripheral nerves of the arm – in cooperation with scientists from Stanford University, Brown University (Rhode Island, US) and the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (EPFL). Today his project has achieved an important outcome.

Thanks to the scientific contribution of Silvestro Micera, at first assistant of Prof. Dario and now his successor, the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna has coordinated, and has been involved in, several European and international projects. Today Prof. Micera is the head of the Neuroengineering Area and of the activities concerning the neural control of prosthetic hands of the Biorobotics Institute of. Moreover, since 2011, he has been working in the new EFPL Centre for Neuroprosthesis and is the coordinator of the lifeHand2 project.

The Italian Ministery of Health has financed, for new young scientists, the research project that has made the NEMESIS (NEurocontrolled MEchatronic hand prostheSIS) trial possible.
The Biorobotics Institute of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, EPFL, the Campus Biomedicus University of Rome (UCBM), the University Policlinic “Agostino Gemelli” of Rome, the Biomedic Microtechnology Laboratory of the Department of Microsystems Engineering (Freiburg University) and the IRCSS San Raffaele Pisano all contributed to this successful trial.
The synergy among the researchers will continue in the future with the HandBot project (MIUR\PRIN2013-2015 Programme), just started.

Picture: Prof. Micera and the bionic hand

Elisabetta Bevilacqua