Cure At Your Fingertips: Tiny Implants Restore Lost Sensation Of Touch


Cure At Your Fingertips: Tiny Implants Restore Lost Sensation Of Touch

By Sara Miller, NoCamels -

Everyone knows what it is like trying to pick something up while wearing bulky gloves – our hands feel clumsier and objects are harder to grasp. Most significantly, we are deprived of the ability to feel our surroundings with our own bodies, denying us one of the most crucial ways we navigate safely through the world.

And while most of us can simply remove the gloves and immediately regain our sense of touch, for some people illness or trauma has deprived them of this sensation on a permanent basis – a disorder known as hypoesthesia.

But Israeli startup Tengable is determined to restore some sense of touch to those who have lost it, with its innovative subcutaneous platform.

Using fingers as an example, Tengable CEO Shai Feinsod explains that a person who has suffered nerve damage will typically lose both motor and sensory capabilities in the digit.

The current solution, he tells NoCamels, is surgery to try to repair the nerve, reconnecting its severed segments in the hope that this will restore movement and sensation.

Unfortunately, Feinsod says, movement is usually restored while the sense of touch remains absent.

“Many, many people walk around us with loss of sensation in some place in their body,” he says.

Feinsod explains that a loss of sensation in the fingers has far-reaching implications for those suffering from it.

“Once you can’t feel your fingers, it’s associated with depression, it’s associated with a loss of capability to work,” he says.

“Our plan is to help those whose sensation did not come back, and offer them functional sensation, so they can work, they can hold things without looking at them – to get the day-to-day living functions.”

Tengable’s solution is a small, extremely thin sensor implanted under the skin in the affected area, which creates an electric charge as it “feels” contact with an object. The charge is sent through an electrode to a healthy nerve ending, reinstalling the sensation of touch.

“It’s like an extension cord,” he says. “It’s not dependent on the surface area of the injury – I can take it all the way back.”

The sensor is powered by kinetic energy, requiring no external power source such as a battery.

The implant is actually two very thin, silicon-coated sheets made up of what Feinsod calls “special materials.” The two sheets lay one on top of the other and when pressure is applied to them, they create the charge that is transmitted back to the healthy nerve.

“Let’s say I’m typing on a keyboard,” Feinsod says by way of an example. “Whenever I touch the key, it will charge [the sensor] and it will send the message that I touched something.”

The company was created when Dr. Amir Arami, head of the Hand Surgery Department at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, was frustrated by the lack of help for his patients suffering from nerve damage.

He teamed up with co-founder Prof. Ben Maoz from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University to devise the solution to restore sensation.

The Katzrin-based company is supported by the Galil Ofek incubator, which is also located in northern Israel and specializes in medical R&D, as well as by the Israel Innovation Authority, the branch of the government dedicated to promoting the national high-tech sector.

Tengable plans to begin human trials later this year. Feinsod tells NoCamels that the company’s leadership, like many others in the medical world, are aware of the impact that this promises for Israel as its soldiers fight in Gaza. It will also have an effect, he believes, in countries where workplace safety is not paramount and workers all too often pay the price for that.

Feinsod hopes that the sensor will have regulatory approval and be commercially available within three years.

“Typically a medical device is seven years [in development],” he says. “We are racing ahead and we are working very, very hard so we can get it to the people who need it.”

The first target market will be the US, where the sensor falls into a bracket whose cost is covered by Medicare and Medicaid, followed by the rest of the world.

The sensor is cheap to produce and affordable for the patient, easy to implant and requires low maintenance, Feinsod says.

The first incarnation of the sensor is designed for fingers and toes with damaged nerve endings. After that will come an implant for diabetics whose disease can lead to peripheral neuropathy (numbness in the extremities) in up to 50 percent of sufferers.

The startup is also looking ahead to one day placing implants in prosthetics, potentially restoring sensation for people who have lost limbs.

Feinsod says that he is unaware of any other technological company developing a similar product, explaining that most solutions for damaged nerves involve surgery to reconnect the severed segments.

There are also companies exploring the use of stem cells and proteins to enhance healing, he says, but, like surgery, they are restricted by a short window in which the neurons are able to heal.

What sets the Tengable sensor apart, Feinsod explains, is that it is not tied to a healing process and in fact is designed to be implanted when the other solutions are no longer viable.

“We’re not competing against anyone in the existing market,” he says. “We’re coming to offer a solution to those who have no solution.”

The company was to showcase its technology at the 2024 Biomed Israel conference in Tel Aviv in late May.


More News