A bionic hand that allows patients to feel sensations as well as control its movements with their mind is to be fitted to an amputee's arm for the first time.
The prosthetic uses electrodes to relay messages to and from the brain via nerves in the arm, meaning the patient can direct it with their thoughts.
It transmits sensory feedback from all five fingers as well as the palm and the wrist, meaning it feels lifelike and allows the patient to grasp objects accurately.
The robotic hand will be attached to the arm of an anonymous patient for the first time this year at a hospital in Rome, scientists announced at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston on Sunday.
''This is real progress, real hope for amputees,'' said Silvestro Micera of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, who developed the device.
''It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping ... the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb.''
Being able to feel the hand as if it is their own will allow people to use it in a ''more natural, rich and effective way'', he added.
The device is controlled by electrodes that are implanted into the median and ulnar nerves, allowing signals to flow through the arm in both directions.
The electrodes stimulate the patient's sensory system, allowing them to feel surfaces they touch and grasp objects accurately and safely.
A four-week clinical trial showed that the robotic device could be controlled by an amputee who was connected to the hand by wires while it stood on a table, but who was not fully attached to it.
By concentrating on trying to manipulate the hand, Pierpaolo Petruzziello, 26, could move the fingers, make a fist, hold objects such as a bottle of water, and was able to feel when needles pricked it.
The device took just a few days for Mr Petruzziello to master and, by the end of the month, he was able to move the hand in the way that he wanted 95 per cent of the time.
Since that experiment the prosthetic has been improved and is ready to be attached to a patient, who is in their twenties and lost their lower arm in an accident. Should the month-long trial be successful, researchers hope to have a finished product ready for testing within two years.
''It could deliver two or more sensations,'' said Mr Micera. ''You could have a pinch and receive information from three fingers, or feel movement in the hand and wrist.
''We have refined the interface, so we hope to see much more detailed movement and control of the hand.
''It is intended to be as lifelike as possible ... we hope that one day it will be embedded in the arm and the user will just forget it is there.''
The next plan will be to develop a model with electrodes under the skin rather than on top of it, which would allow it to remain on the arm permanently.
The current model, which relies on wires that travel through the skin, can be kept on only for a month.
The Daily Telegraph