British boy makes history with ‘superhero’ bionic arm

An 8-year-old British boy has made medical history as the youngest and smallest person to be fitted with an advanced multigrip bionic arm, according to its manufacturer.

At the top of his to-do list with his new prosthesis: High-five his friends.

Freddie Payne was fitted with his “Hero Arm” last week, days before his birthday, in a move that could revolutionize treatment for young people with “limb differences” in the UK, manufacturer Open Bionics said.

Freddie was born without a right hand, and doctors warned at the time that it could be more than 20 years before bionic technology would be available in the UK. Suzy Cook, Freddie’s mother, said that her son’s condition had not affected him in his early years but that he had become “very self-conscious” in the past year or so.

He was “beside himself with excitement” over the new arm and “couldn’t wait to move his fingers,” she said.

Freddie’s previous prostheses were “doll-like” and offered only limited control, she said, adding that he was excited to “high-five, shake hands” and do everything that most people take for granted.

Open Bionics describes the arm as the world’s first clinically approved, 3D-printed bionic arm. The startup, based in the southern English city of Bristol, says it is the first to develop the technology for children as young as 8.

Co-founder Samantha Payne said Freddie’s prosthesis was a “great milestone.” She said a bionic arm had never been fitted on someone so small, adding that it was a “great step forward.”

She said the company aims to “offer people with limb differences an aesthetic choice.” This includes a superhero design for children. “We also wanted to encourage young people to see their disability or limb difference as their superpower, something unique about them that is to be celebrated.”

The prosthesis is lightweight and responds to electrical signals in the muscles of the affected arm. “The bionic hand is controlled by tensing the same muscles which are used to open and close a biological hand,” the company said in a statement.

The bionic arm translates the electrical signals into a series of grips and movements, which allow for much greater control than other prostheses, including picking up delicate objects and gripping playground equipment.

Open Bionics develops the prostheses using scans or plaster casts. The 3D printing process allows for fast and relatively cheap production, slashing costs of up to £100,000 ($130,000) for other multigrip prostheses to about £10,000 ($13,000).

Payne said the price could be cut even further for the UK’s National Health Service, as the current fee includes private clinical costs.

The technology was made possible after Open Bionics received £698,000 ($903,000) of NHS funding for clinical trials in order to get the prostheses medically certified.

The arm is already available in the French public health care system but isn’t available on the NHS in Britain.

Open Bionics has raised a further £4.6 million ($5.9 million) in funding, allowing it to target international markets including France and the United States.

This story has been updated to correct Freddie Payne’s last name.