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Barbie Legs

Barbie Legs

Introduction

Read this transcript of a 1999 Science Update feature that discusses how Barbie’s knee joints are being used to help patients with prosthetic fingers.


Introducing Prosthetic Finger Barbie. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Over the years, the Barbie doll has gone through several modifications, to keep up with our evolving social values. But this year [1999], Barbie's outdone herself. She's donated her own knee joints to help patients with prosthetic fingers.

The idea wasn't actually Barbie's. It's the brainchild of Jane Bahor, an anaplastologist at Duke University Medical Center. She was talking with an amputee about how rigid most prosthetic fingers are.

Bahor:
"So we were thinking if we could just make a bend, you know, like a Barbie doll leg. And sort of the light bulb went off and this young lady went home and dug up old Barbie dolls from her sister's toy chest, and we cut them open and found out what made that knee work."

They discovered a simple, cheap, and elegant ratchet joint, that's as stable as it is flexible.

Bahor:
"It's a two-piece contraption that goes within the plastic leg and these two pieces connect at the knee in a little ratchet joint, and then they just click into different positions."

The result is a bendable prosthetic finger. You have to use your other hand to bend it, but it's a big step up from no joint at all. And Dr. Bahor says the Mattel Company, which makes Barbie, has donated plenty of knee joints to the project. So no more dolls will have to go under the knife.

For the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I’m Bob Hirshon.

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