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Three Austrians receive robotic prosthetic hands controlled by their minds

25 February 2015

Austrian scientists from the Medical University in Vienna have performed the first “bionic reconstruction” on three men allowing robotic hands to be controlled by their thoughts. 

Three Austrian patients suffered for many years with severe hand injuries and poor hand function as a result of motor vehicle and climbing accidents. The technique called “bionic reconstruction” involves amputating the hand and substituting it with an advanced robotic prosthesis.

The new technique was developed by Professor Oskar Aszmann, Director of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Restoration of Extremity Function at the Medical University of Vienna. Otto Bock Healthcare in Austria developed and produced the bionic-arm prostheses.

The process combines selective nerve and muscle transfers, elective amputation, and replacement with an advanced robotic prosthesis using sensors that respond to electrical impulses in the muscles. Following comprehensive rehabilitation, the technique restored a high level of function in all three recipients.

Before amputation, the patients spent an average of nine months undergoing cognitive training, first to activate the muscles, and then to use the electrical signals to control a virtual hand. Once they had mastered the virtual environment, their hands were amputated and replaced with robotic prostheses.

Three months after amputation, all three recipients had substantially better functional movement in their hands, improved quality of life, and less pain. For the first time since their accidents they were able to pick up a ball, pour water from a jug, use a key, cut food with a knife, and use two hands to undo buttons.

According to Professor Aszmann, "So far, bionic reconstruction has only been done in our centre in Vienna. However, there are no technical or surgical limitations that would prevent this procedure from being done in centres with similar expertise and resources."
Film showing Austrian man using new bionic hand

Original content taken from Der Standard, Die Presse, ScienceDaily and The Irish Times.