Scientists make bionic prosthetic arm that restores sense of touch

In a scene in the 1980 iconic Star Wars film "Empire Strikes Back," a young Jedi receives a prosthetic hand capable of touch. Now, nearly 40 years later, that sci-fi technology has become a reality.

Amanda Kitts loves traveling the world with her husband. But a car accident in 2006 changed her life forever. She was driving home from work one day and a pickup truck crashed into her car.

"His tire flew off and his axle came in through my window and ripped my arm off," Kitts shared.

The accident didn't only take her arm but also her ability to do simple everyday activities.

"Silly little things like putting toothpaste on a toothbrush or even trying to put on a bra," Kitts said.

Dr. Paul Marasco is a biomedical engineering scientist at Cleveland Clinic. Marasco thought Kitts would be a perfect candidate to try a new type of bionic prosthesis that restores the sense of touch and movement sensation for upper-limb amputees.

All candidates must have already undergone a targeted nerve reinnervation, which is a procedure to re-direct amputated nerves to new muscle in the arm or chest.

"When we vibrate those muscles, it generates this illusion of movement," Marasco explained.

It allows patients to feel something they never thought they would again.

Marasco said it helps them "sense that their hand is moving in very complex and naturalistic ways."

Patients feel when their hand opens and closes and how hard they squeeze something when they have the prosthesis on. Marasco also said this technology allows amputees to see the prosthesis as part of their body. Kitts agrees.

"When you get a new sense that you haven't had for so many years, it's been 12 years since I lost my arm. It's another movement toward having a real hand, having a real arm, and it's amazing, actually." Kitts said.

The patients in this trial have a prototype of the prosthesis, but it isn't currently out in the market yet.

Marasco and his team are also exploring ways to expand this technology to patients who have lost a leg.

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