The next step in human evolution may not be biological but technological. This is because we have been able to merge ourselves with machines that augment and enhance our physical and perceived realities. But this is no small feat when the human form is the product of billions of years of natural selection. And that’s why innovators and scientists are actually looking to nature for inspiration to bridge the gap between man and machine. Most prosthetic limbs were passive and it required 20 % more effort on part of the patient than regular individuals to lead a normal life. But now prosthetics have come a very long way, thanks to new medical advancements.
The replacement or enhancement of organs or other body parts by mechanical versions is called bionic technology. Bionic implants mimic the original function of the limb or organ very closely. It is nature identical. They are not mere prostheses but are outdoing them.
Dennis Aabo Sorensen became an amputee after a fireworks accident in 2007. But now he is able to feel things again with the help of a new bionic prosthetic. The hand can detect differences in shape and consistency of items. And through the use of a mathematical algorithm, it can translate the data into feedback that the human nervous system can understand. The data is transferred into electrodes that were surgically implanted in the subject’s underarm. Sorensen said that the feeling is very close to that of a normal hand. The technology was a prototype when it was first introduced but now has come a long way. It was for the first time that a real-time sensory feeling had been restored to an amputee. He couldn’t feel things for almost 9 years because he had lost his arm.
A four-week clinical trial was performed in planting electrodes into the peripheral nerves. The hand has several sensors attached to each tendon of each finger. These sensors can be used to understand the level of force the patient was using while grasping an object. This information regarding force is used to deliver very precise stimulation to the different sensory nerves in order to restore the real-time sensory feeling into the nervous system. One can easily feel round things and hard things. The technology itself builds on decades of research, but the study may be the clearest demonstration yet of the importance of building sensory feedback into prosthetic devices to make them better able to perform the motions of everyday life. And in that sense, it points to where the field of neural prosthetics is heading.
Bionic technology has been increasing in leaps and bounds. And artificial limbs are not the only progress made in that sphere. Bionic technology has also advanced in the following fields:
Automated wearable artificial kidney: It works just like a real kidney. It is less painful than a traditional dialysis as it functions almost all the time.
Artificial cells: These are made from polymers and can mimic WBCs. Artificial cells can be administered to a specific area where pills and injections can’t reach. It has been found very useful in the treatment of cancer.
Rheosmart knee: It provides realistic comfortable motions, all on its own. Its programs and adjusts itself according to the user and the terrain.
Portable pancreas: It is capable of monitoring the wearer’s blood sugar as well as adjusting the insulin level in order to meet the body’s needs. This will make diabetics lead more normal lives and is going to be available in the market very soon.
Apart from these, artificial heart, retinal prosthesis system, auditory brain-stem implant, robotic exoskeleton, artificial proteins and hippocampus replacement technologies are either available to the patients or are soon going to be available for the users.