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Amputees Embrace World's First Bionic Hand

A British firm called Touch Bionics has developed the world's first commercially available bionic hand. The company introduced the hand in Britain in September 2006 and in the U.S. in July. Users say the electronic prosthetic is a vast improvement over previous artificial hands. Paul Sisco has this week's Searching for Solutions report.

Lindsay Block was born without a lower left arm, and has been fitted with artificial replacements since childhood.

Donald McKillips' hand was amputated after an accident he had as a young man.

And retired U.S. Army Sergeant Juan Arredondo lost his hand to a roadside bomb in Iraq. He recalls the incident: "About 9:30 in the morning, and 28th of February 2005, a roadside bomb was detonated, on my left side. I was driving that day. My hand was severed. It was still on the steering wheel."

Today they report remarkable dexterity and capabilities with their artificial hands from Touch Bionics, a British firm run by Stuart Mead. "We've managed to take technology from other fields, bringing it together and produce the world's first truly bionic hand," says Mead.

Each prothesis is individually constructed, insuring a proper fit. The artificial hands have sophisticated electronics that power five motors allowing each digit to function independently.

"How the hand actually works is the patient thinks of an action and the brain sends a signal down through the central nervous system to a muscle grip," explains Hill. "Now we read that signal and it allows the hand to open and close. Now the really intelligent part about the hand is the way it adapts to different shaped objects."

After being fitted and tested, Juan Arredondo performs everyday tasks with ease. David Glow of Touch Bionics explains that until now, artificial hands were limited.

"If I can operate it here, that's the hand in a position that you would use as a human to do what we call the power grip. So that would be for holding objects quite firmly, and you can't do that with existing artificial hands. We can put this into what we call the key grip, which is where, as you would imagine, you can turn a key in a lock; again existing electric hands can't do that. And then we can put it into the pincher grip, where the thumb and fingers meet together in a precision grasp," he outlined.

Block says she has more options now. "With this one there are so many possibilities. I've never really had a hand where I can see it do different shapes. It really does feel like it has all the possibilities that my regular hand has," adds Block.

The bionic hands come in various skin tones and cost between $60,000 and $150,000.

Some video courtesy of Touch Bionics