Mind-controlled prosthetic lets amputees feel touch

For the first time, people with arm amputations can experience sensations of touch in a mind-controlled arm prosthesis.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine features three Swedish patients who've lived with the technology in their everyday lives.

One user is Rickard Normark.

(SOUNDBITE) (Swedish) RICKARD NORMARK, AMPUTEE, SAYING:

"It's hard to describe. It's a part of my daily life. I use the prosthetic from when I wake up until I go to bed so for me its natural."

For the last few years, patients using the prosthetic hands have been able to try out a new feature - sensations of touch.

This is a new concept for artificial limbs - called neuromusculoskeletal prostheses, as lead researcher Max Ortiz Catalan explains.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) LEAD RESEARCHER MAX ORTIZ CATALAN, SAYING:

"The way we do it is we have an implant that goes insode the bone and is mechanically attached to biology via osseointegration that provides literally an exntension of the skeleton where you can connect the arm. So we can place electrodes in the nerves and muscles, look at those signals when they come down."

This new prosthesis differs from others in that it has a direct connection to a person's nerves, muscles and skeleton.

It is mind controlled and delivers sensations that the user perceives as arising from the missing hand.

The sensation of touch is possible through stimulation of the nerves that used to be connected to the biological hand before the amputation.

More than a million people worldwide suffer from limb loss.

The end goal is to develop a widely available product suitable for as many of these people as possible.