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Meet Rex, the bionic man

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By NICK MCDERMOTT

London - Ir cost six million dollars to create fictional bionic superhero Steve Austin.

Scientists however have built a man from artifical limbs for a sixth of the price.

Known as Rex – short for robotic exoskeleton – his 6ft frame is made up of an array of artificial limbs and organs from around the world.

Built for a Channel 4 documentary exploring how far technology has developed, Rex raises ethical dilemmas.

Research on advanced prosthetics and artificial organs means scientists could soon not only replace missing body parts, but improve on them.

In the Six Million Dollar Man astronaut Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, was left horribly injured after his craft crashed.

The opening sequence of the 1970s TV series featured an off-camera voice intoning: ‘Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.’ Austin was given a bionic arm and legs and an artificial zoom-lens eye.

The C4 programme’s presenter is Dr Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist from Switzerland who himself has a £30,000 bionic limb after being born without a left hand.

He said: ‘It’s exciting and a bit scary. We might be at a point in science and technology where we see first glimpses of the possibilities to go beyond the limits of evolution.’

George Annas, Professor of Bioethics and Human Rights at Boston University, warned: ‘I think when it comes to our bodies, the danger is we might change what it is to be human.

‘Create a new species that may turn around to bite us, similar to the Frankenstein myth, where your creature let loose in the world becomes destructive and uncontrollable.’

The bionic man is being built from $1,000,000 (£640,000) of limbs and organs by leading UK roboticists Richard Walker and Matthew Godden.

There is the artificial eye which consists of a microchip implanted into the retina that receives images by a camera housed on the patient’s glasses.

It sends electrical pulses that are translated by the brain into shapes and patterns. Professor Robert MacLaren from Oxford University said: ‘We are hoping patients who are completely blind will be able to see basic shapes and objects.’

Scientists are hoping prosthetic replacements for failing hearts, kidneys, pancreas and spleens could one day solve the worldwide shortage of donor organs. One example, the SynCardia Systems artificial heart is already saving lives, with more than 1,000 implanted. Powered by a battery, it can temporarily replace a diseased heart until a donor is found.

A prosthetic foot and ankle – developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Hugh Herr who lost his legs to frostbite in a climbing accident – mimics the actions of the calf muscle and Achilles tendon. The professor said he was now able to climb better than before his accident.

How to Build a Bionic Man is will be broadcast in Britain on February 7. - Daily Mail

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