It was a scene in the 1980 iconic Star Wars film the 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 collided with her car.
Amanda said, “His tire flew off and his axle came in through my window and ripped my arm off.”
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.” Amanda said.
Paul Marasco, PhD, an Associate Staff Scientist at Cleveland Clinic thought Amanda 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 redirect amputated nerves to new muscle in the arm or chest.
“When we vibrate those muscles, it provides an illusion of movement.” Marasco explained.
It allows patients to sense that their hand is moving in very complex and naturalistic ways he added.
Patients feel when their hand opens and closes, and how hard they squeeze something when they have the prosthesis on. Marasco also says this technology allows amputees to see this prosthesis as part of their body. Amanda agrees.
“You know 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 towards having a real hand, having a real arm. It’s amazing actually.” Amanda says.
The patients in this trial have a prototype of the prosthesis, but it isn’t currently out in the market yet. Marasco is also exploring ways to expand this technology to patients who have lost a leg.