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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
'Bionic' arm operation a success
A 46-year-old stroke victim has become the first person in the world to have "bionic" implants fitted to help restore her lost hand and arm movement.

Fran Read from Poole in Dorset, had the pioneering procedure at Southampton General Hospital on Friday.

Dr Jane Burridge, leader of the project, said: "Everything seems to have gone well and the latest procedure is a success."

Ms Read hopes she will eventually be able to return to playing netball.

This is not a system to replace someone's movement
Dr Jane Burridge

The hairdresser is the first to undergo the procedure, which involved electrical micro-stimulators being implanted into her left arm close to nerves and muscles that have not been used effectively since her strokes.

The five tiny cylindrical devices were inserted under a local anaesthetic by surgeons at Southampton General Hospital two weeks ago.

Since then, they have been allowed to settle in Ms Read's arm and on Friday she was fitted with a radio frequency cuff or coil that will relay signals from a computer and then to the micro-stimulator.

The micro-stimulators will receive instructions that will mimic messages the brain usually sends to the muscles.

'Long process'

The movement should improve as Mrs Read uses the system more and more, and Dr Burridge hoped it would rebuild the muscles and help the limb re-learn how to move.

Dr Burridge said: "It's a long process - the project will last for two years.

"In a month's time I think we will have the system working and she will have probably noticed some small change.

"We now have to test the micro-stimulators to see how much we need to stimulate them to make her arm move to, for example, pick up a cup or brush her hair.

'May help thousands'

"This is not a system to replace someone's movement - it helps to retrain their muscles to enable them to re-learn to move.

"If we put these micro-stimulators in a paralysed person it would not help them because this is really a type of therapy that can only help people who have some movement."

Dr Burridge said she hoped in the future the new system would help hundreds of thousands of stroke victims across the world.

Similar devices have been implanted in the arms or shoulders of patients in the US, Canada and Japan but these operations have only involved one stimulator.

This is a world first because Ms Read has two stimulators in her upper arm and three in her forearm.

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