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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Former Marine demonstrates "bionic" arm


Claudia Mitchell's thought-controlled artificial hand did what natural fingers are prone to do: It lost its grip, letting a bottle of water tumble to the ground.

Blame the mishap on the dozens of photographers who crowded around the 26-year-old today in Washington as she showed off a "bionic" arm produced by Liberating Technologies Inc., a company based in Holliston.

Mitchell, a former US Marine Corps officer, became the first woman to test the experimental arm a month ago after her left arm was severed in a motorcycle accident.

If she thinks "close," her replacement hand forms a fist. She is also able to tie her shoes with both hands or peel a banana. When she thinks "move," the engineered arm moves as smoothly and swiftly as her right arm.

That's because nerve tissue that tells her brain what her phantom limb should be feeling has been surgically rerouted.

The National Institutes of Health has invested $3 million toward the basic research aimed toward improving artificial limbs.

The military's research-and-development wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is contributing another $50 million for a network of labs working on high-tech artificial limbs.

Some 411 military personnel in Iraq and 37 in Afghanistan have suffered wounds that cost them at least one limb.

-- Diedtra Henderson

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