An Artificial Arm Gives This Man A Chance To Feel Again



A decade ago Dennis Sorensen was lighting off fireworks for New Year's Eve with his family in Denmark when the unthinkable happened.

Apparently one of the rockets they had that evening had a bad fuse, and when Sorenson went to light it, it exploded.  The next thing Sorensen knew, his hand had been mutilated. 

Tragically, doctors had to amputate what was left of Sorensen's left hand and Sorensen has been making do with a standard prosthetic ever since, which only opens and closes so he can do basic things.

Sorensen, 36, says that the prosthetic does basically what he needs it to do, such as carry a bag or two at the grocery store.  However, the biggest problem for him is having to look at the prosthetic all the time just to make sure that it's actually doing what he needs it to do.

Sorensen, like most people with a prosthetic, would tell you he can't feel anything he's holding or touching.  So no sooner had he heard about an incredible experimental device that would actually let him feel again, he was on a trip to Rome to be the first person to try it.

Silverstro Micera, the director of the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at Ecole Plytechnique Federale de Lausanne (Switzerland) stated that the goal of the project was to provide sensory information to an amputee in real time in order to increase the usability of the prosthesis, to give back as much natural sensory information as possible.  

Researchers have added sensors to each finger, then surgeons would insert tiny electrodes into Sorensen's arm, which would connect the sensors to the nerves in his arm.

Micera says that the nerves which connect the hand to the brain are the natural ones conveying the sensory information from our natural sensors in the hand back to the brain.

The procedure was apparently a success; Sorenson was almost immediately able to feel just about everything he touched!

Sorensen could barely describe how amazing it was that suddenly his artificial hand and his brain were working together for the first time in a decade.  So well, actually, that it seemed as though he had his normal hand back.

With a blindfold and ear plugs, Sorensen could tell the difference between a Mandarin orange and a baseball, a short bottle and a tall bottle and even between a hard wooden block and a piece of soft fabric.

To quote Sorensen himself; "I squeezed that the first time, then I could just feel a tiny little vibration in my fingers and then I was sure that this one was a soft object. Yeah, it's a very amazing device to use." 

Sorensen spent many weeks in 2013 testing the prosthetic and showing how easily he could control the strength of his grasp.

Micera says that this is the first time that somebody's been able to achieve this kind of richness in the sensory feeling.

Some researchers, like Daofen Chen are being cautious about the report, stating that, while It demonstrates a proof of concept,  whether this is useful in ultimate clinical application  still remains to be seen.

Chen has gone on record questioning if amputees would be willing to undergo hours of surgery to have electrodes surgically implanted in their arms. And, according to him,  the device is currently too bulky to be used in everyday life. (Brandon's note; Dr. Chen, have you actually considered asking a few amputees what they thought? The one this article is about sure didn't seem to mind.)

Others, fortunately, are a bit more enthusiastic. Dustin Tyler believes that when you add sensation, that prosthesis changes from a tool that they're using at the end of their limb to their hand. 

Micera acknowledges that much more needs to be done before the hand could be made widely available. But he hopes to start testing a portable version on volunteers within few years.

Special thanks to YouTube user and long time Braehawk Tech supporter Fratis Nox  for sending me the original article this blog is based on.  

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the many reasons why myself and the rest of this team are such proponents for technology.