Three Austrian men first to get bionic hand reconstruction

Medical experts say a true verdict on the technique can't be offered until long-term results are observed.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 25, 2015 at 9:54 AM

VIENNA, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Three men in Austria are the first to have so-called bionic reconstruction, surgery to replace lame hands -- rendered useless by injury -- with mind-controlled prosthetics.

The surgeries took place three months ago, and the men are already performing tasks like picking up small objects, preparing food with a kitchen knife, unlocking doors with their keys, undoing shirt buttons and more.

The three men are able to control the hand with neural impulses that travel via nerves and muscles taken from their legs and transplanted onto their arm along with the metal hand.

"Existing surgical techniques for such injuries are crude and ineffective and result in poor hand function," Dr. Oskar Aszmann, a surgeon at the Medical University of Vienna, who helped develop the new technique, said in a release.

"The scientific advance here was that we were able to create and extract new neural signals via nerve transfers amplified by muscle transplantation," Aszmann explained. "These signals were then decoded and translated into solid mechatronic hand function."

The three men also say they are in less pain than they were before.

But the technique isn't perfect -- or at least not without drawbacks. The men will have to take anti-rejection meds for the rest of their lives. And medical experts say a true verdict on the technique can't be offered until long-term results are observed. A prosthetic's response to neural impulses has been shown to fade over time in past experiments.

The hand transplant surgeries are detailed in the latest issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

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