The world’s first ‘bionic’ device to produce co-ordinated hand and arm movement will be fitted in a British hospital today, with the aim of allowing a woman to return to playing netball.

A 46-year-old hairdresser, who was left partially paralysed down her left side, will have the operation at Southampton General Hospital.

If successful, the patient should be able to extend her elbow and wrist and open her hand.

The woman, whose identity will be revealed later today, had a stroke nine years ago, followed by a second stroke in November 2002.

They have affected her left side, but have not affected her ability to walk and she aims to return to the netball court with the aid of the operation.

The system is designed to provide electrical stimulation to control and re-educate weak or paralysed muscles, so patients who have suffered damage to the central nervous system after a stroke can regain movement.

The process involves microstimulators being implanted into the patient’s arm and acting like ‘bionic neurons’, mimicking the messages from the brain.

At the end of April, five microstimulators were implanted close to the nerves supplying muscles in the woman’s arm.

Today she will be fitted with a cuff which will send signals to the microstimulators.

The system will then be programmed to produce functional patterns of movement, which will help her arm to ‘re-learn’ movements lost after the stroke.

The project is being led by Dr Jane Burridge, senior lecturer in Neuro-rehabilitation at Southampton University’s School of Health Professions and Rehabilitation Sciences.

By Martin Halfpenny

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