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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"For patients it even has the sensitivity of a hand"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 12:39 GMT
'Bionic' hand success hailed
Daisy Harriman
Daisy Harriman shows off her new hand
British scientists claim to have created the world's first truly bionic hand small enough to be used by a toddler.

A full-scale trial at Nottingham City Hospital on young patients who have only a partial hand has paved the way for the technology to become available on the NHS.

It is like nothing else in the world - Britain leads the field

Dr David Gow
It has taken more than 20 years for the high-tech hands to be developed by engineers and doctors.

They have solved the problem of how to make the motors and batteries small enough to be completely self-contained.

This is important because it allows the very young to be fitted with the mechanical hand early enough in their lives so that they can adapt to the device and get the maximum performance out of it.

Bag of crisps

Dr David Gow, who pioneered the research at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Edinburgh in the 1970s and 1980s, said: "If you don't get the children very young, and fit them once they are able to crawl, they are not going to get much use out of it later in life.

The hands are capable of intricate tasks
"This is the starting point to try to make this available on the NHS. It is like nothing else in the world - Britain leads the field."

One patient who has received a Prodigit hand, Jeremy, said that the new prosthesis was "brilliant".

"It helps me do a lot of things - I can open doors, hold a book and turn the pages, and hold a bag of crisps."

His mother Margaret said the powered prosthetic had made a huge impact on her son.

Brain signals

"He used to have one hand now he has got two and that is just wonderful for him and us," she said.

"I am delighted he was able to take part in the clinical trials."

The two motors that operate the hand are contained entirely in the thumb and forefinger. This allows the hand to be fitted to patients who have half a hand.

The unit is operated by signals from the brain. The user sends a signal to move a muscle in the forearm, and electrodes detect this and pass the message on to the motors.

The team now plans to build bigger versions of the hand for use in adult patients. So far, five children, aged between two and 11, have been fitted with the Prodigit hands at Nottingham.

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