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Scientists create world's 1st bionic fingers

December 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
It may sound like science fiction, but it's reality. Scientists in Ohio have created the world's first bionic fingers, which may be the first of many new prosthetic devices that seem to work like the real thing.Michael Bailey is a video-game fanatic. But last March, in an accident at work, he lost something he'd always taken for granted: the use of his left hand.

"It took a couple months for me to really grasp what was going on," said Bailey. "I think I had my low periods for a little bit."

After nine hours of surgery, Bailey's doctors were only able to save his thumb and index finger, leaving him unable to do simple tasks like sweeping.

"It was definitely a big challenge, having to learn to write again, learn to do everything that I normally would have done with my left hand," said Bailey.

Then the 24-year-old became one of only 50 people in the world fitted with bionic fingers.

Each finger contains a motor smaller than a dime and they are all powered by a tiny rechargeable battery.

Electrodes placed against Bailey's arm sense when he contracts certain muscles. Those small movements drive the robotic fingers.

The fingers, called "pro-digits," are built over several months at an Ohio laboratory. It is a pain-staking process because each set is a custom-fit for the patient.

"This is right out of science fiction. We've got fingers that function just like your normal hand. I mean they're powered by motors and batteries and electricity," said Nathan Wagoner.

For Michael Bailey it's so much more.

"It has been amazing, it felt like it was supposed to be there," said Bailey. "It felt like normal, like I was whole again."

The custom-fit fingers don't come cheaply. They cost between $60,000 and $80,000. Some insurance companies have a $1,000-limit on prosthetic devices.

Bailey says he mastered his new bionic device after using it for only five minutes.


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