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World's First Prosthetic Hand with Moving Fingers

The world's first prosthetic hand with moving fingers will be launched next summer and is poised to transform the lives of millions of amputees.

Users will control the bionic hand through their own muscular impulses, and it will enable them to perform functions such as turning keys and gripping objects.

Inventor David Gow, an NHS prosthetics manager in Edinburgh, has just announced closing the first part of an investment package of £1million from a consortium of wealthy Scottish investors, Lloyds TSB bank and the public sector to back this latest advance in his revolutionary project.

Following successful trials last year on an earlier model, Gow's company TouchEMAS has begun a programme of development that he says will put his company at the forefront of changes in the prosthetics industry.

The prosthetic hands currently available are little more than crude, claw-like devices with simple functions.

Gow's hand, which has sophisticated electronics coated with skin-effect silicone rubber, will have a moving thumb and fingers. In addition the hand's fingers will curl or articulate, so more closely resembling the movements of human hands.

The hand, which is likely to sell for about £2500, can lie flat and has three grips. Once the whole arm is fully developed, users will also have a powered shoulder, elbow and wrist extending the range of possible functions. These will be available in 2006.

Gow, who works at the Eastern General Hospital as director of rehabilitation engineering services, spun out his company - Touch EMAS - early last year to develop the technology.

Gow has recruited Stuart Mead, former chief executive of biopharmaceuticals company Excell Biotech, as chief executive.

Mr Mead said: "This major round of funding represents the launch-pad which will propel Touch EMAS through the next crucial 12 months and beyond. Archangel Informal Investments, as well as SHIL and Scottish Enterprise, have displayed tremendous vision and faith."

He added that the next year would be "the most exciting in the global prosthetics market for a decade", stating that the company would be at the forefront of a change in the way patients and the medical profession view prosthetics.

Also joining the team is John Fuller, who has extensive knowledge of quality assurance, manufacturing and regulatory issues in the sector, and has worked with companies in America. He will play a crucial role in helping to bring the product to market.

The chairman is experienced businesswoman Lynne Cadenhead, while Bill Dykes, a world-renowned prosthetist at Strathclyde University, is also working with the team to help develop the technology and work with patients who are helping with trials.

Gow, who has been working in the field for 23 years, struck a deal with Elumotion, a Bath-based business, to manufacture the prototype hand that will be used for trials and to find buyers. It will be targeted mainly at the American and European markets and will hit the commercial sphere next August.

Gow believes there is a worldwide market for prosthetic arms of about £48million, though that is likely to be on the conservative side.

Touch EMAS is now looking for new premises somewhere in the Central Belt. He wants to build a centre of excellence and a training facility.

Touch EMAS was spun out of the NHS last year under the ownership of Scottish Health Innovations Ltd (SHIL) and was the first SHIL spin-out to receive significant funding.