New bionic technology is making it possible for amputees to feel again. It’s a scientific breakthrough, and Dennis Aabo Sørenson became the first in the world to experience it when he took a chance on a clinical trial that ended up paying off—big-time. Sørenson, from Denmark, had lost his left hand in a fireworks accident nine years earlier, when he decided to take part in the 2013 trial. The study’s groundbreaking technology connected surgically implanted electrodes to a bionic prosthetic hand, and after nearly a decade of living without touch sensory, Sørenson could feel again.
The study, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, was performed by the European research institutes Ècole Polytechnique Fédéral De Lausanne, in Switzerland, and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Italy.
According to the study, in February 2013, researchers implanted tiny pin-sized electrodes into the nerves of Sørenson’s left arm. Less than a month later, when blindfolded and tested, Sørenson was able to identify and describe objects placed in his hand. “Suddenly you could see my left hand was talking to my brain and it was magic,” he told USA Today. “It was surreal. I grabbed the object in my hand and knew it was round. It was a baseball.”
Today, though, Sørenson is once again without his sense of touch, due to clinical trial safety regulations that mandated the electrodes be removed from his arm after 30 days. Researchers say the electrodes need to be tested for longer periods of time before they can be approved for public use, meaning it could be years before sensory-enhanced prosthetics are commercially available.