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Bionic cat enjoys purr-fect paws

Oscar the "bionic" cat has regained a spring in his step following ground-breaking surgery to fit him with a pair of prosthetic paws.

The two-and-a-half-year-old lost eight of his nine lives after his rear paws were amputated by a combine harvester as he basked in the sunshine.

Thanks to bioengineering work by Surrey-based neuro-orthopaedic surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick, he has gained new feet in a world-first operation. The revolutionary design of the feet uses custom-made implants to "peg" the ankle to the foot and mimics the way in which deer antler bone grows through skin. It has been described as a case of science copying the natural world.

Oscar's road to recovery began after his local vet from St Saviour in Jersey referred his owners, Kate and Mike Nolan, to Fitzpatrick Referrals in Eashing, near Godalming.

Following his accident last October, Mrs Nolan said: "We had to do a lot of soul-searching and our main concern has always been whether this operation would be in Oscar's best interests and would give him a better quality of life."

Working with a team from University College London (UCL), Irishman Dr Fitzpatrick pioneered the use of the weight-bearing prosthetic implants, combining engineering mechanics with biology. In a three-hour operation, the veterinary surgical team inserted the pegs by drilling into one of Oscar's ankle bones in each of the back legs. The artificial implants, which are attached to the bone at the amputation site, were coated with hydroxyapatite, which encourages bone cells to grow onto the metal.

The skin then grows over a special "umbrella" at the end of the peg to form a seal against bacteria and potentially-fatal infections.The peg protrudes through the bone and skin, allowing the custom-built artificial paws to then be securely attached.

Oscar was trying to stand within a day of the operation. In less than four months he could stand and bear weight equally on all four limbs. He has since been fitted with a series of prototype new paws to ensure the best possible long-term fit - and is back to his normal happy self.

Dr Fitzpatrick said: "The real revolution with Oscar is because we have put a piece of metal and flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone, with very narrow tolerances in the region of nanometres, rather than millimetres. Oscar can now run and jump about as cats should do."

The work of Dr Fitzpatrick, who was born in Mountmellick in Co. Laois, will feature as part of a six-part BBC One documentary series, The Bionic Vet, starting later this month.

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