Technology is an integral part of STEM, with far-reaching applications that includes playing a vital part in modern medicine. From limbs to organs, innovation in the field of bionic technology bodes well for the future of healthcare, particularly for people who are forced to live with deformities or debilitating disease. Human prosthetics have been in play for hundreds of years, with evidence of usage that dates back all the way to 1500 B.C. Luckily, the days of peg legs and hand hooks are long gone. The sophistication and function of bionic technology has now developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, and there is plenty of room to grow as new discoveries are made.
Limbs of Life
Prosthetic limbs are a godsend for those who live with physical birth deformities, or those who have been forced to undergo amputation as a result of tumors, infections or accidents. New bionic technology allows amputees to regain mobility while promoting self-esteem and independence at the same time. A new FDA approved bionic arm nicknamed “Luke”, after the Star Wars character, now has the capacity to perform multiple, simultaneous movements by detecting electrical signals from the contraction of muscles that are close to the attachment site of the prosthesis. Amputees who need prosthetic legs are also benefiting from innovation. Before, prosthetic arms were the only type of limb that was capable of being controlled via neurosignals. Those whose legs were amputated were limited to either mechanical or motor powered prosthetics. However, a new bionic leg now has the ability to be controlled via the user’s thoughts through electrodes that pick up electrical signals in the upper leg muscles when they contract. Affordability of these prosthetics is currently the most prominent issue, with prices ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per limb. With continued advancement and engineering, developers are confident that these computerized limbs will gradually become more accessible to the public.
Organs Opening Doors
Transplants have helped millions of people, but that still doesn’t wipe away the risks and complications of receiving an organ. Finding organ donors are a battle in itself, with an average of 18 people dying per day while waiting for an organ to become available. Innovation in bionic technology may assist in situations where waiting for an organ is not a viable option. The cornea is the most commonly transplanted organ, but when corneal transplants aren’t the solution to the vision problem, a bionic eye might help with patients who need to regain vision from degenerative eye disease. A great deal of bionics is still experimental, such as a newly developed bionic pancreas that measures the glucose level of diabetic patients and then supplies either insulin or glucagon to stabilize blood sugar levels. For those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes, this technology advances from the current standard of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. Researchers are also experimenting with a new bionic heart that is entirely self-contained. For the thousands of patients waiting for life-saving heart transplants, this technology is quite literally a matter of life or death. An internal battery powers the mechanical heart, which can be recharged from an external pack through the patient’s skin. Although it might take time to implement the technology on a widespread scale, the creation of such devices gives hope for the revolution of healthcare in the near future.
Organs from 3D Printers
3D printing is finally having its well-deserved time in the spotlight and is a true testament to the spectacular range of modern technological innovation. At the moment, medical applications for 3D printers are concentrated in the dental industry, with crowns, caps and fillings. However, scientists are hoping that 3D printers will one day be able to create living organs, which could eventually help reduce organ shortages. There is already a project in the works to sell strips of liver tissue created from 3D printers to drugmakers. The liver strips would be used to test the toxicity of certain treatments. Currently, the biggest issue with printing organs would be finding an adequate blood supply to keep the organ healthy and alive. With continued experimentation and research, Organ printing is still at least 10 years away from fruition, but with continued experimentation and research, science is closer than ever to radical change in medicine.