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Amputee clients could benefit from inflatable prosthetic hand controlled by the mind

Jane Weakley
Good news for people undergoing amputation following an accident or negligent treatment in that engineers have developed an inflatable prosthetic hand that could revolutionise the lives of upper-limb amputees.

Currently, prosthetic limbs tend to be made of metal and are expensive, whereas the new hand is light, soft and cheaper to create. At under 300 grams, the hand weighs less than a can of soup.

The neuro-prosthetic hand invented by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China picks up residual muscle signals from the brain to perform actions the user wants to make, such as pouring juice from a carton, stroking a cat or using a pen.

The hand includes balloon-like fingers with fibre running through them, similar to articulated bones in actual fingers, meaning the user can perform four common grasps: pinching two and three fingers together, making a balled-up fist and cupping the palm. Electromyography (EMG) sensors pick up electrical signals from the residual limb, so when the user imagines making a fist, the hand should make a fist.

Pressure sensors on each fingertip produce proportional electrical signals so that the user experiences pressure on the fingers and can respond accordingly. The hand takes about 15 minutes of EMG training to learn to use, during which the person is asked to imagine making different grasp actions. Thereafter the hand is synced with the person's thoughts.

When we pursue a medical negligence claim on behalf of someone who must undergo amputation or loses a limb, be it arm or leg, we include the costs of all future prosthetics in quantifying their claim. A recent case of mine immediately springs to mind involving a then 16-year-old girl who had to have her right arm amputated below the elbow after pain and swelling in her wrist was misdiagnosed at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, London.

Following surgery that was later admitted to be relatively untested and was in any case negligently perfomed, the girl, now 20, was also left with permanent brain damage. Despite all this, she has gone on to do remarkably well in her studies, something that was noted by the judge during the settlement hearing. Read more about her case.

Prosthetics take a huge amount of time and effort to fit and to get used to, usually at the same time a person faces the challenges of adapting to the 'new normal'. They often also face the challenges of stump pain, phantom limb discomfort and anxiety. Anything that eases these challenges is a fantastically positive move.

My client currently lives with an electric hand which obviously is hugely beneficial, but what she might further achieve if this new lighter, more controllable hand becomes a reality is anyone's guess!

Read more about amputation and limb loss claims.

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