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British woman wants hand amputated in favor of bionic limb

Nicola Wilding, a 35-year-old housewife from Surrey, England whose right hand was paralyzed thirteen years ago from nerve injuries sustained in an automobile accident is trying to have her hand amputated and replaced with a bionic prosthetic limb, according to reports published on Monday, March 19, 2012 by BBC News, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, and other media outlets.

Medal of Honor recipient Army Sgt. 1st. Class Leroy Petry. Petry now uses a state-of-the-art prosthesis, allowing him amazing dexterity.
Medal of Honor recipient Army Sgt. 1st. Class Leroy Petry. Petry now uses a state-of-the-art prosthesis, allowing him amazing dexterity.
U.S. Army / Department of Defense
A woman demonstrates a bionic hand similar to that which Ms. Nicola Wilding wants if she can convince doctors to amputate her existing non-functioning hand.
Getty Images / via The Daily Telegraph

While doctors were able to restore some movement to her upper arm through a series of operations after the car crash, her hand remained useless, without feeling or movement. Now she wants surgeons to cut it off completely, hoping to replace it with a functioning myoelectric artificial limb, such as the examples shown in the attached slide show and video clip.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military, and many other agencies have been working for years on this project.

Such a device was worn by U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Leroy Arthur Petry, who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama at a White House presentation ceremony on July 12, 2011.

The artificial hand is currently controlled by myoelectric sensors attached to the skin, but other versions are under development making use of electrodes implanted on the brain, allowing thoughts to be translated into nerve impulses providing even greater user dexterity.

The idea of bionic body parts began appearing in the popular media as far back as 1973 with the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, based on the 1972 novel Cyborg. Spin offs included The Bionic Woman, and The Terminator series of films which first appeared in 1984.

While advanced artificial limbs function as well or even better than their human counterparts, voluntary amputation of a limb is not without risks.

According to Doctor Oskar Aszmann, an Austrian surgeon interviewed by the BBC, "These are risky decisions, and they are irreversible. Once the extremity is gone it's gone, you cannot put it back on again." However, after examining Ms. Wilding recently in London, he thinks that she is a good candidate for such radical surgery.

As Dr. Aszmann put it, "She's already prepared to go. She says she wants to have a functional hand and arm, so I think for her there's no question in her mind. What we have to figure out is what she still needs to qualify for an elective amputation and I think for that she will need to come to Vienna for us to conduct thorough tests."

Such tests would analyze the strength of nerve impulses transmitted by her upper arm, and their effectiveness in controlling an artificial hand.

There are already a growing number of people benefiting from such advanced prosthetics. These include members of the military who have lost limbs as a result of battle injuries, as well as persons involved in catastrophic accidents.

Dr. Aszmann first performed a voluntary amputation on a patient named Patrick in 2010. Patrick, a 25-years-old man, lost the use of his left hand after he was electrocuted. Using a bionic hand, he can now open a bottle and tie his own shoelaces with the artificial limb, which uses two sensors fitted over nerves within his lower arm.

Other examples of bionic applications in medicine include the cochlear implant, a device allowing deaf people to hear again, and the artificial heart. Research currently involves development of a silicon retina that can send images to the brain, and artificial red blood cells called Respirocytes, which would mimic the action of the natural hemoglobin-filled red blood cells, but with 200 times greater efficiency.

These amazing advances seem to support the long held belief of scholars and philosophers that "given enough time, humans can accomplish anything."

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