Limbless could get a sense of touch thanks to ground-breaking research

Medical University of Silesia in Katowice. sum.edu.pl

People missing limbs could regain a sense of touch after Polish scientists developed a prosthesis that supports the regrowth of nerves.

Neuroprosphetics, which involves designing devices that can substitute a motor, sensory or cognitive modality that has been lost, is an important area of medical research internationally. Prostheses have long been used to replace missing body parts that the patient has had amputated or was born without. These days, some arms prostheses can be controlled using the patient’s mind, but the feeling of touch has been more difficult to recreate.

In some cases, nerves are transplanted from one part of the body are used to control the prosthesis, but this cannot be done when the nerve needs to be over a certain length.

Now Wiesław Marcol, a neurosurgeon at the Silesian Medical University in Katowice, south-western Poland, and his colleagues have developed a nerve prosthesis.

“Our prosthesis is the best in the world. Better than commercially available products. It’s a revolution,” Marcol told the Polish newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

Where other researchers have struggled to control how nerves grow back, Marcol decided to try designing a prosthesis featuring a material made up of thousands of fibres that could support the nerves’ regrowth.

With the help of specialists at the Institute of Biopolymers and Chemical Fibers in Łódź, he created a prosthesis using a material called chitosan. Derived from the shells of shrimp and other sea crustaceans, it has several commercial and medical uses, including dressing wounds.

With the results looking promising so far, the University has applied for a European patent. If Marcol’s creation is commercialised, it could make a big different to surgeons and patients in Poland and beyond.

His work is the latest development in a pioneering branch of science.

In recent years, various research teams have reported progress. Researchers at Stanford University in the United States have been working on an artificial sensory nerve system. And this February, doctors in Sweden wired a prosthetic hand directly into a woman’s nerves. She was able to move its fingers with her mind, without external inputs, and even feel.