An Italian who lost his left forearm in a car crash has been successfully linked to a robotic hand, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts, scientists said.
During a one-month experiment conducted last year, 26-year-old Pierpaolo Petruzziello felt like his lost arm had grown back again, although he was only controlling a robotic hand that was not even attached to his body.
“It’s a matter of mind, of concentration,” Petruzziello said. “When you think of it as your hand and forearm, it all becomes easier.”
Though similar experiments have been successful before, the European scientists who led the project say this was the first time a patient has been able to make such complex movements using his mind to control a biomechanic hand connected to his nervous system. The challenge for scientists now will be to create a system that can connect a patient’s nervous system and a prosthetic limb for years, not just a month.
The Italy-based team said at a news conference in Rome on Wednesday that in 2008 it implanted electrodes into the nerves located in what remained of Petruzziello’s left arm, which was cut off in a crash some three years ago.
The prosthetic was not implanted on the patient, only connected through the electrodes.
During the news conference, video was shown of Petruzziello as he concentrated to give orders to the hand placed next to him.
During the month he had the electrodes connected, he learned to wiggle the robotic fingers independently, make a fist, grab objects and make other movements.
“Some of the gestures cannot be disclosed because they were quite vulgar,” joked Paolo Maria Rossini, a neurologist who led the team working at Rome’s Campus Bio-Medico, a university and hospital that specializes in health sciences.