People with amputations may be able to use e-skin to feel (Reuters)

Scientists have moved a step closer to allowing physical sensations such as touch, humidity and temptation to be experienced through prosthetiic limbs.

The breakthrough has given amputees hope that one day they will be able to feel changes in their environment through the use of artificial skin called "e-skin".

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology used tiny gold particles and a special resin to develop a sensor that could be integrated into e-skin.

The scientists believe that if they can work out how to attach the e-skin to prosthetic limbs, amputees will be able to feel changes in their environment through those limbs.

Prof Hossam Haick said the e-skin was "at least 10 times more sensitive in touch than existing touch-based e-skin systems".

Technical hurdles have long prevented scientists from adapting e-skin for real-world use but the Israel researchers say they are close to a breakthrough.

Modify sensitivity

They created nanoparticles from gold and surrounded them with connector molecules.

"Nanoparticles can be thought of as flowers, where the centre of the flower is the gold or metal and the petals are the monolayer of organic ligands that generally protect it," said Haick.

The nanoparticles were laid on top of a substance made from the same plastic in fizzy drink bottles and were able to conduct electricity depending on what was required - the sensor was able to detect a large ranges of pressures and sensory changes.

The scientists were able to modify the sensitivity of the sensor by varying its thickness.

Nir Peled, of Israel's Sheba Medical Center, said: "The sensor is very stable and can be attached to any surface shape while keeping the function stable.

"The development of the artificial skin as biosensor by Prof Haick and his team is another breakthrough that puts nanotechnology at the front of the diagnostic era."