One of the biggest drawbacks of today's prosthetic limbs is that they don't provide the sensation of touching something. Scientists have made progress restoring the sense of touch for amputees by rerouting hand nerves to the chest after amputation. Now, when physical pressure, heat, or cold is applied to those nerves, the patients reported feeling the sensations in their nonexistent hands. From AFP:
In some of the testing, the patients could even specify which area on the hand they could feel; one, a woman identified as STH, at one point pinpointed a strong feeling of the skin stretching and the joint position of her ring finger being extended…
The scientists suggest their success in reviving such specific sensation identified with missing limbs could lead to establishing nervous system feedback in prosthetic devices like artificial hands, arms, feet and legs.
"Our results illustrate a method for creating a portal to the sensory pathways of a lost limb," they said in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This work offers the possibility that an amputee may one day be able to feel with an artificial limb as though it were his own."