Aimee Mullins was born with a condition that required her legs amputated below the knee at an early age. This however did not stop her from becoming a world-class athlete in track and field, representing America in the 1996 Paralympic Games, with the help of prosthetics. Aimee also has a career in modeling and is a living inspiration to those who do not wish to be defined by their physical limitations.
Known as the woman with 12 legs, her prosthetics continues to aid her in her day to day life. For many people like her, who wish to live to the fullest, prosthetic limbs and organs are giving them a second chance and a new lease in life. Here, we highlight 10 such amazing prosthetic replacements that are advancing modern medicine.
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The i-LIMB is the world’s first commercially available bionic hand, released in 2007. It allows the user to have control of the hand by using muscle twitches that are in the stump area. Certain muscle twitches will trigger the hand to position itself in a preconfigured grip. For example, two fast muscle twitches will activate a pinch grip. Since its release, the prosthesis has only gotten more advanced, with more automatic finger and thumb controls and a mobile app to activate the grips.
Known to the public as the ‘Terminator arm’, the Bebionic3 is another advance prosthetic hand that is available commercially. Like the i-LIMB, it too uses muscle impulses to activate the different grips that allows the user to perform everyday tasks normally. Precision is not much of a problem for these cybernetic hands, as most of the things a real hand can do can be replicated with the artificial ones, allowing amputees to live a normal life unaided.
Leg: Power Knee
For people who had to undergo above knee amputations, getting around with traditional prosthetics can be difficult, as they will have to adapt to movement without the assistance from the knee. The is where the people from Össur, come in, creating a bionic knee known as the Power Knee.
With it, the user will be able to walk normally and naturally again, as it replicates the muscle activity needed to bend the legs. It can also learn the user’s walking pattern and gait to be more efficient and comfortable.
Feet: Proprio Foot
Created by the same company that made the Power Knee, the Proprio Foot is a bionic foot aimed at helping the user navigate uneven terrain. The prosthesis features designs and technology that helps reduce the compensatory movements that user’s would usually make with traditional prosthetics. From the lightweight material, a powered ankle and intelligent terrain adaptation, the foot will allow users to have a natural walking and standing stance.
Most of you have probably heard of BiOM through a TedTalk that was given by Hugh Herr, the head of the Biomechatronics research group at MIT Research Lab, the Center For Extreme Bionics. In it, he talks about the research done on bionic legs and the potential of such technology on humanity. If you haven’t seen the talk yet, you really should, as he shows of how advance his prosthetics are and the process of creating it. To top it off, He even invites a dancer wearing the bionic leg to display its dexterity.
Hand: The Deka Arm
Affectionately known as the ‘Luke Arm‘, after Luke Skywalker, the DEKA Arm is the brainchild of inventor Dean Kamen and his team at the DEKA Research and Development Corporation. The arm was created with funding from DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthesis program, which aims to propel prosthetic research forward.
The arm works via a combination of electrodes, movement and switches where an on board processor translates them into hand movements. The prosthetics received FDA approval on May 2014, so expect to see this on market in the near future.
Hand: Modular Prosthetic Limb
The Modular Prosthetic Limb, developed by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, is another project that is funded under Revolutionizing Prosthesis. The aim is to create a bionic arm that gives the user the same functionality and dexterity as a normal arm, all being controlled using the mind.
As the name implies, the arm is meant to be modular, with it being able to replace an injured limb at any level. Testers for the limb have noted that they have gained the ability to differentiate between their fingers as well as sense the hardness of an object.
The Argus II retinal prosthesis is a retinal implant designed by a company called Second Sight to improve vision in people that are afflicted by retinitis pigmentosa. The prosthetics work by using a retinal implant and an external camera mounted to eyeglasses connected to a processor.
Images are recorded by the camera, processed and then sent to the implants in the eye wirelessly. The implant will then stimulate the remaining retinal cells in order to give the user limited visual information. It doesn’t cure blindness but it is one step closer to restoring vision to the blind.
Artificial hearts have actually been around for more than 50 years and though they cannot permanently replace the heart just yet, they can extend the life of a patient long enough to get a heart transplant. Example of artificial hearts include the AbioCor, which has a life expectancy of 18 months.
(Image Source: ru.wikipedia.org)
Sometimes, all that is needed is an implant to assist the heart instead of replacing it and that is where Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD) come in. They are used to partially or completely replace a part of the heart that is failing, doing the job of pumping out the blood. A famous user of a VAD is former US Vice President Dick Cheney, who lived with the device for 20 months.
A recent development in bionic organs research, the bionic pancreas is a solution to make the lives of people affected with Type-1 diabetes easier. Instead of the usual routine of manually injecting insulin, the bionic pancreas uses a system where a sensor will read the user’s glucose level and send it to a smartphone app for analysis.
The app will calculate the amount of insulin required and automatically administers it through an implanted pump. The only thing the user’s ever need to do is to tell the app when they are eating, so it can take this into account. The system is still in its early changes but already the benefits of such a device is apparent.
(Image Source: Science Alert)
Extra: Deus Ex: The Eyeborg Documentary
Filmmaker Rob Spence lost his eye in a shooting accident. He now has a camera installed in his prosthetic eye which can wirelessly transmit video to an external device. Commissioned by Square Enix to make a documentary about cybernetics and prosthetics to coincide with the release of the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, he travels the globe in search of people like him and ponders the future possibilities of the technology. The short documentary is a must watch for anyone who has an interest in the field.