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The real bionic woman.

Byline: By Martin Halfpenny

A British woman has become the first person in the world to have a 'bionic' device fitted to help restore some of her lost hand and arm movement.

Stroke victim Fran Read, aged 46, from Poole in Dorset, had the final procedure yesterday at Southampton General Hospital.

Dr Jane Burridge, who is in charge of the project, said that the procedure had been a success but it would be a long time before it could help other stroke victims.

However, over the next few months it is hoped that, with the help of the device, Mrs Read, who has suffered two strokes, will be helped to re-learn how to use her left hand and arm and eventually resume playing netball.

The hairdresser is the first to undergo the pioneering procedure, in which, electrical micro-stimulators were implanted into her left arm close to nerves and muscles which 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 Mrs Read's arm and yesterday she was fitted with a radio frequency cuff or coil which will relay signals from a computer and then to the microstimulator.

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

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: '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.'

But he added: '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 the latest success was the culmination of 16 years of research and development by the Alfred Mann Foundation, an American non-profit medical research body which has developed the micro-stimulator.

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

But this first trial needs to be completed and then five other people will receive the same system which, if successful, would then lead to a clinical trial.

She also said that in the future this technology could one day help paralysed people.

'There is a possibility they could be used to replace movement,' she said. 'For example, someone with spinal-cord injuries.

'That is not what this project is about, but there is a potential it could help in the future.'

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

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

CAPTION(S):

An X-ray of implanted BION (an injectable single-channel microstimulator that produces asymmetric bisphasic constant current pulses, to act as bionic nerons and assist arm movement; Dr Jane Burridge and Gregoire Cosendal demonstrate the world's first `bionic' device to produce co-ordinated hand and arm movement; The 16.7mm long, 2.4 mm wide bionic device
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 14, 2005
Words:588
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