Barbie knees reborn as prosthetics

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BARBIE, EVERYONE agrees, has fine physical assets. We now know, however, that the best features of the impossibly slender doll are not her waist or her perky bosom. We must praise her for her knees.

This comes to us courtesy of a laboratory making prosthetic limbs at Duke University in North Carolina. It has recently stumbled upon an astonishing truth: Barbie has knee joints that make ideal knuckles in prosthetic fingers for amputee patients. The unlikely discovery was made by Jane Bahor, who makes life-like body parts at the University. The knees are ideal for people with fake fingers because they can be bent into position to grip objects and will stay there until they are bent back again.

Ms Bahor and a patient, Jennifer Jordan, came up with the idea three years ago while discussing how to make Ms Jordan's prosthetic finger more realistic and useful. When Ms Bahor pointed out the miracle of the knees to Mattel, the maker of Barbie, the company sent her a bag of spare knee parts. She has been incorporating them in prosthetic fingers ever since.

"She's made her cultural contribution, now she can make a medical contribution," Ms Bahor said yesterday. Noting that her patients are thrilled with their Barbie parts, she added: "Just a simple thing like that is an enhancement."