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Eric Jones holding Lego block with ProDigits  (Source: Touch Bionics)
Device can cost over $70,000

Most of us take little things like holding a glass or brushing our teeth for granted. For some people who have lost hands or fingers, these tasks can be impossible to accomplish without help or specialized equipment.

A new generation of bionic fingers has been unveiled by a company called Touch Bionics. The company is developing advanced upper-limb bionic technologies and has announced the official launch of its ProDigits bionic finger. ProDigits are the world's first powered bionic solution for people who have lost fingers.

The ProDigits prosthetics are custom built for each application by clinicians to insure that they function ideally for the patient. ProDigits are controlled by using one of two methods. Either myoelectric sensors that register muscle signals from the residual finger or palm can be used or a pressure sensitive switch in the form of a force sensitive resistor or a touchpad can be used to control the fingers. The last approach relies on the remnant of the finger or the tissue surrounding the metacarpal bone to provide the necessary pressure to activate the finger.

One user of the ProDigits prosthetic Michael Bailey said, "Honestly, I had only put it [ProDigits] on for five minutes and I was getting it to work just fine. It feels like it belongs there, like it’s part of me."

The Telegraph reports that the ProDigits device costs between £35,000 and £45,000 and requires no surgery. That works out to roughly $57,000 to $73,000 USD. The chances of patients' insurance actually covering this prosthetic is slim meaning that the ProDigits system will be well out of the reach of most people who could benefit from the technology.

A range of coverings can be chosen by the patient including clear skins and a "livingskin" pattern that is natural looking. ProDigits hope to work with the National Health Service in the future for payments in Europe.

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What happened to?
By Anoxanmore on 12/9/2009 11:43:11 AM , Rating: 3
I thought were had the ability to attempt to grow limbs back... did that fizzle out?

(Yes a first serious reply from me, I couldn't think of a Princess Bride quote to make it fit this particular article. Sad day, I know)

RE: What happened to?
By amanojaku on 12/9/2009 11:50:48 AM , Rating: 2
No, regeneration of whole, complex structures is practically impossible. That's why stem cell research is popular, and the recent lift on the stem cell ban may help advance this area of research.

RE: What happened to?
By geddarkstorm on 12/9/2009 1:18:12 PM , Rating: 2
The axolotl would like to have a word with you.

The MRL strain of super regenerative mice also has shed light on why we don't regenerate well. It appears to be mostly the result of our immune system. Since we also know the axolotl doesn't regenerate because it has pluripotent cells, but that it's simply mediated by the vanilla adult stem cells, it seems perfectly possible for mammals to have the same capabilities if we can understand how the immune system stops tissue regeneration and promotes scarring.

RE: What happened to?
By Reclaimer77 on 12/9/2009 4:00:07 PM , Rating: 2
Stem cell research wasn't banned. Federal funding for certain lines was. If it's that groundbreaking and important, you should be able to find investors and fund it yourself.

RE: What happened to?
By jkresh on 12/9/2009 4:40:40 PM , Rating: 2
You are correct that the research was not banned, federal funding was limited. The unfortunate thing was/is that most early/basic research (the stage that embryonic stem cells are currently at) is done in universities with either federal funding or grants from some foundations, corporations/investors/venture firms tend to wait until things are closer to market before getting involved. Foundations tend to be nervous when there is controversy and if they feel that funding something (even if it could be valuable) might bring undue negative attention they may focus on other areas. Limiting of federal funding slowed down advances in embryonic stem cell research.

RE: What happened to?
By intelpatriot on 12/10/2009 5:43:53 AM , Rating: 2
That's not the kind of thing private finance has ever liked to finance. Except in science fiction movies.

Nearly all fundamental science has been government (oh no!) funded.

Once we've progressed from science to technology, then the private sector performs admirably (empirically/historically better than the alternatives).

RE: What happened to?
By mallums on 12/13/2009 4:16:13 AM , Rating: 2
Young children that lose a finger or toe occasionally grow a new one, so it is certainly not impossible. The goal should be finding out how that happens. (Like any lizard tail that grows back, the regrown digit is inferior to the original. But hey, better than borrowing toes to use as fingers.)

RE: What happened to?
By Redwin on 12/9/2009 12:02:29 PM , Rating: 5
No Princess Bride quote!?

Inigo Montoya: "I do not mean to pry, but you don't by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?"

Not yet, but that model should be available in Summer 2011!

RE: What happened to?
By Anoxanmore on 12/9/2009 12:25:40 PM , Rating: 2
lol, alright that one got a giggle out of me, well done. :-)

RE: What happened to?
By Whedonic on 12/9/2009 12:15:56 PM , Rating: 2
As I understand it, research is still being done on limb regeneration, but it's still a long way from being viable. In the meantime, highly functional prosthetics like this are the best we have.

RE: What happened to?
By elgueroloco on 12/9/2009 2:49:53 PM , Rating: 2
AFAIK, they were able to get the soft tissue and even fingernails to grow back, but not the bones. They are working on that now.

I think they should try combining soft tissue regeneration with bionics so you could have things like Luke Skywalker's mechanical hand or Will Smith's bionic arm from "I, Robot."

RE: What happened to?
By NullSubroutine on 12/9/2009 3:57:14 PM , Rating: 2,2933,353636,00.html

What you were thinking about. Last I heard they were still in trials and the military had given funding.

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