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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Tests of bionic arm implant start
It could help stroke patients regain control of their arms
A tiny electrical implant which could help stroke patients to regain control of their arms is to be tested in humans for the first time.

If successful, the implant could be widely available within five years.

The electrode works by mimicking the instructions normally sent by the brain to nerves in the arm.

Scientists at the University of Southampton hope it can help people who have lost their ability to move their arm after having a stroke.

The technology has been developed by scientists from the Alfred Mann Foundation in California.

They have already shown that the implants can help people with sleep apnoea, which causes them to stop breathing in their sleep, and others with urinary incontinence.

I would hope that it would be available within five years
Dr Jane Burridge,
University of Southampton
In these cases, the implant produces a signal causing the muscles involved in these processes to relax and contract normally.

The American team have also used the implant to restore movement in the shoulder.

Control movement

But this latest study takes the technology a bit further. This time, scientists are trying to use the technology to restore movement and to enable people to control movement in the arm.

The 2mm electrode is designed to be injected into the muscle in the arm, beside key nerves.

Once in place, it is activated by a radio signal from a coil worn by the patient.

The patient can activate these signals by pressing control buttons on a box, which they can carry or place on a table.

Dr Jane Burridge, a senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, is heading the human trials of the technology.

"The first person will be British and will probably be from Southampton," she told BBC News Online.

"We are expecting to have implanted it into six subjects in 18 months time.

"If we have been successful, we will then go on to try to do more clever things with the implant or test it clinically.

"I would hope that it would be available within five years."

Dr Burridge said the implant could potentially help thousands of people.

"What we are doing is controlling a movement by getting quite a number of muscles to work together. In essence its about control. It is a very exciting project."

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