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Sarah Deans, prosthetics lecturer, on the Bionic Woman

Although the television programme Bionic Woman is set in the present day, the idea of a serious trauma victim transformed by her prosthetics into a superheroine is obviously science fiction. There have been some fantastic breakthroughs, though. How long before this kind of prosthetic enhancement becomes real? Usually, it takes a war to significantly advance the field. After the second world war, there was a great push to improve prosthetic design. In the show, they talk about testing these bionic limbs on Gulf war veterans.

But we're trying very hard. We now have ankle joints that can adapt to uneven terrain. And we're moving towards carbon fibre, which can have a fantastic effect on propulsion - although I don't think anybody will be able to outrun a car for a while. For upper limbs, there are prosthetics that have electronic sensors, and joints that can be controlled by electrical impulses from the patient's muscles.

Until recently, there was always a trade-off between function and cosmetic effect. These days, people with amputated limbs - especially the younger ones - are much more willing to show off their raw hardware, because it's so expensive. It becomes almost like bling. But, of course, the bionic woman's legs look just like the real thing.

What really interested me about the show was her lack of control over the whole process. She was created against her will and her feelings were ignored. This is completely alien to my experience; we try to focus on the patient, not the machine. The bionic woman did get a brief therapy session, but no physio. She was told she should rehabilitate herself - and she was up on her feet in no time.

· Sarah Deans is a lecturer at the National Centre for Prosthetics and Orthotics, Glasgow. Bionic Woman is on ITV2 on Tuesdays.


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Sarah Deans, prosthetics lecturer, on the Bionic Woman

This article appeared on p25 of the Arts section of the Guardian on Monday 17 March 2008. It was published on guardian.co.uk at 11.40 GMT on Monday 17 March 2008.

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