The three men are the first ever to receive the “bionic reconstruction”, which entails a voluntary amputation, the transplant of nerves and muscles, and learning to use faint signals from them to control the hand.
Previous versions of bionic hands allowed control using manual settings.
“This is the first time we have bionically reconstructed a hand,” said Dr. Oskar Aszmann of the Medical University of Vienna, who developed the approach with colleagues. “If I saw these kinds of patients five to seven years ago, I would have just shrugged my shoulders and said, `there’s nothing I can do for you.'”
Aszmann added that even though some patients are likely candidates for a hand transplant, the procedure may have complications, including having to take anti-rejection medicines for the rest of their lives.
The procedure is described in journal Lancet.
When Milorad Marinkovic, 30, lost the use of his right hand in a motorbike accident, the prospect of a bionic hand allowed him to grab things such a sandwich or a bottle of water. More importantly, he was able to play with his three children.
Dr. Simon Kay, author of an accompanying commentary, said there would always be major limits to bionic hands. He added that the brain has thousands of ways to send messages to the human hand, but that a robotic prosthetic can’t handle such complexity.
“The question is always going to be: How do we get the message from the mind to the metal?” he said.
In Aszmann’s estimation, the new procedure costs around $33,960. The study was paid for by groups including the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development.