Phantom limb pain is a common problem for people who undergo amputation, and so is the ability to function even with a regular prosthetic, but a medical advance that sounds like it comes straight out of “Star Wars” is giving at least one woman significant relief from that pain. She now has a functioning bionic prosthetic hand that can feel some sensations and help her do about 80% of what she used to do with both hands.

While Luke Skywalker’s human-like bionic hand is still years away, scientists say they are a step closer with this newest prosthetic technique, and doctors hope others will soon benefit from this approach.

Karin, whose full name is not disclosed in the proof of concept study published Wednesday in the medical journal Science Robot, had been using a regular prosthetic hand for years, but it was hard to control. And as with even the most technologically advanced prosthetics on the market, it was uncomfortable and sometimes even painful to use. On top of that, the Swedish 50-year-old, who lost her hand in a farming accident, had been living with excruciating phantom limb pain for more than 20 years.

Karin with her integrated bionic hand and Prof. Max Ortiz Catalan
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“It felt like I constantly had my hand in a meat grinder, which created a high level of stress and I had to take high doses of various painkillers,” Karin said in a news release from the group that made her new prosthesis possible. The engineers and doctors who did this work are a part of the Center for Bionics and Pain Research, a multidisciplinary collaboration between several international organizations.

To relieve her pain and to gain function, she agreed to be a part of an experiment that would give her a bionic hand. The team says she is the first person in the world with a below-elbow amputation to successfully get a bionic hand directly connected to her neuromusculoskeletal system.

Karin’s prosthesis is considered bionic because it is attached to her nervous system as well as to the muscle and bone, unlike a traditional prosthesis that attaches to the end of her stump through suction or a harness and cable system.

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