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Electricity and bionics: The future of powering medical miracles

“Nearly everyone has heard of the term “bionics” in movies, books or TV shows (i.e., the Six Million Dollar Man and Darth Vader). However, few people really stop to think about where the energy to power these amazing devices comes from.

Hollywood seems to have come up with their own secret solution, because, face it, Luke Skywalker stopping to change the battery in his bionic arm isn’t exactly sexy. Or imagine Darth Vader making a pit stop to plug in and recharge his bionic appendages before engaging another Jedi Knight.  That would kill the action deader than Greedo in the cantina.

However, Hollywood is not real life, and real life bionics need real power solutions. Having heart surgery every five to seven years to change the battery in a pacemaker isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time.

While some people use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between prosthetics and bionics.

Prosthetics are replacements for lost body parts. Bionics, on the other hand, function very similarly to the original part or organ and may even surpass it in terms of capability. Together with advances in 3D bioprinting, the possibilities for applying bionic technologies are seemingly endless and life altering.

From the restoration or enhancement of vision, strength and hearing to the creation of fully functioning replacement limbs for amputees to even the ability to monitor or prevent such diseases and conditions as type I diabetes, one of the biggest obstacles to these breakthroughs is a steady, reliable, and efficient power source to keep the medical miracles coming.”

This Medical Gel Holds the Key to Our Cyborg Future

“The biggest challenge to implanting complicated electronics within ourselves is our own immune system’s tendency to reject foreign bodies. Xuanhe Zhao, a scientist at MIT, has developed a flexible and sticky plastic gel that will provide an interface between these two very incompatible materials.”

The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance

“Hugh Herr is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. Herr lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago; now, as the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, he shows his incredible technology in a talk that’s both technical and deeply personal — with the help of ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage.”

Becoming Cyborg: Scientists Figured Out How to Put Electronics Inside Our Bodies

“Electronics and fluids don’t mix—this is largely the reason why, despite advances in the field, we have yet to really tap into the possibilities of using technology to heal and even improve our bodies. Now, a team of MIT researchers seem to have found a way to make sure that our immune system doesn’t reject foreign objects—using hydrogel. Watch this video to see how this new material create a bridge between technology and biology.”

Biomimetic fabrication for 3D biology

“Biofabrication may today also comprise efforts in more futuristic developments where devices are made by cellularised constructs to furnish to them features that are normally hard to replicate with electronic, mechanical and chemical components such as senses. Bioinspired actuators are a clear example of such strategy. The application of biofabrication represents one of the most rapidly advancing areas of biomedical sciences in which bioengineers, clinicians, and scientists are contributing in large to
human health care. An increasing number of professionals from the most disparate disciplines are gaining interest in this new field. This has resulted in an increase of developed strategies for the regeneration of tissues as well as the generation of in vitro 3D models that hold the potential to recapitulate more closely the complexity and heterogeneity of tissues and organs in the human body.”

Bionics and Biomimetics

“Bionics and Biomimetics is devoted to the promotion of research through the integration of bioengineering, bio-inspired robotics, prosthetics and biology. Bionics is a term that refers either to the replacement, substitution and even augmentation of living parts and functions with cybernetic ones. In a broader sense, it refers to engineering artificial systems through biological principles. Biomimetics is the understanding of biology to design novel technologies and/or to develop new methodologies that use new physical, chemical and engineering approaches to study living systems. This interdisciplinary approach that involves bionic implants, artificial senses, bio-hybrid and biomorphic systems, bio-aware and bio-inspired robotics replicating animal locomotion and behaviour, new approaches exploring the chemical nature of biological structure, biophotonics, bio-inspired energy conversion systems, and bionanotechnology opens great new challenges and requires inputs from different disciplines, spanning from both life and physical sciences to many fields of engineering, up to humanities.”

Bionics- Innovation in Healthcare Sector Worldwide

“Bionics is the study of biological functions and the development of artificial organs and body parts that are used as a replacement of the original part or organs. The bionic organs are designed in such a way so that they can imitate the functions of the organs in order to operate properly. There is an increasing demand for artificial organs in the healthcare sector and the aging population is resulting into multiple organ failure. This in return is creating a need for organ transplant. However, the chance for getting a suitable donor for a transplant requires lot of time and thus reduces the chance of survival. The use of bionics part does not require time and these parts are designed to adjust with the body requirements. Furthermore, the bionics are also being applied in the defense sector in the form of exoskeleton suits which enables a soldier to carry heavy loads without reducing his or her speed in the battlefield.

The bionics market is fueled by major technological advancements in the healthcare sector, rising number of accidents resulting in amputations and paralysis, increasing geriatric population leading to rise in organ failure, and surging application of exoskeletons in the field of defense. Bionics as a substitute for robotics, growing health awareness in emerging economies, and rise in disposable income and healthcare expenditure in developing countries are factors that promise steady growth in the future. In contrast, high cost of bionic devices restricts its adoption in low-income regions and population groups, thereby hindering the overall growth of the market.”

Six million dollar man’s bionic eye becomes reality

“For those of us old enough to remember television in the ‘70s the epitome of cool was the Six Million Dollar Man, Col. Steve Austin and his bionic enhancements.  But what was once the purview of science fiction is inching closer to becoming an everyday reality, as optics specialist Eric Tremblay unveiled a unique contact lens that provides the user with telescopic vision. The lens was revealed in 2015 at the annual meeting of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, California.”

Introducing Beta Bionics: Bringing the iLet Bionic Pancreas to Market

“Breaking news today from Boston, where Dr. Ed Damiano of the Bionic Pancreas team disclosed the launch of “Beta Bionics” – a new “public benefit corporation” to commercialize the team’s fully integrated iLet Bionic Pancreas device to automate delivery of insulin and glucagon. Lilly has also invested $5 million in Beta Bionics, a major vote of confidence in the team. The company’s website went live today at betabionics.com.

Beta Bionics will take the Bionic Pancreas platform developed in the academic research setting, integrate it into a single medical device (the iLet), and obtain FDA approval to bring it to people with type 1 diabetes. Dr. Damiano will serve as the company’s President/CEO, and we were thrilled to see that Children with Diabetes founder Jeff Hitchcock is on the Board of Directors – a great way to bring in additional patient perspective! Lilly’s Global Brand Development Leader, Deirdre Ibsen, will also join Beta Bionics’ Board. The unique public benefit corporation approach has some big advantages for people with diabetes – see below.”

3D Printing Is Already Changing Health Care

“Many 3D-printed medical solutions are still in their experimental stages, but first tests are looking promising in a variety of areas.

In the research phase, scientists at Princeton University have used 3D-printing tools to create a bionic ear that can hear radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability, in a project to explore the feasibility of combining electronics with tissue.

The project was the team’s first effort to build a fully functional organ, and the ear they built not only replicated human ability, but also extended our normal human capabilities. According to an article that was published online by the researchers, “[The field of cybernetics] has the potential to generate customized replacement parts for the human body, or even create organs containing capabilities beyond what human biology ordinarily provides.” As surgeries with exterior prosthetics prove successful, possibilities like 3D-printed livers, kidneys, and lungs could become a reality, cutting through long donor lines to save lives.

There are plenty of other advances in the field of 3D bioprinting, and many of them have been a part of successful surgeries and treatments. In cancer treatment alone, 3D printing is making huge leaps forward. In 2014, researchers developed a fast, inexpensive way to make facial prostheses for patients who had undergone surgery for eye cancer, using facial scanning software and 3D printing. Just this past year, in 2015, another team of researchers found that it is possible to print patient-specific, biodegradable implants to more effectively cure bone infections and bone cancer.”

How will technology enhance our bodies by 2025?

“Martine Rothblatt, CEO, United Therapeutics: Technology will enable an increasing number of cancers to be defeated by biochemically adjusting the body’s immune system to quash cancerous cells. Other technologies will increase the number of transplantable vital organs, either by restoring more from cadaveric donors to acceptable condition, or as a result of organ-manufacturing processes based on regenerative medicine. Also, ultra-cheap personalised gene-sequencing technology and bioinformatics will enable many diseases to be recognised and muted while symptoms are still sub-clinical, resulting in greater human longevity.

“Bionic eye implants and stem-cell treatment will reduce blindness”

Hans Jørgen Wiberg, founder, Be My Eyes

Hans Jørgen Wiberg, founder, Be My Eyes: Our non-exponential body is about to be surprised. Thanks to cochlear implants, we are now seeing the last generation of deaf people. Bionic eye implants and stem-cell treatment will reduce blindness. Also, why shouldn’t hearing aids monitor temperature and pulse and play music? Why shouldn’t a paralysed person with an exoskeleton be the strongest guy in town, or bionic eyes have night vision?

Jennifer French, executive director, Neurotech Network: Technology will provide more accurate and thorough diagnosis of medical conditions of both body and mind. New brain-activity recording techniques could be leveraged to create an integrated human experience wherein the tech element would become less visible, with improved performances. The challenge is whether our societal infrastructures can keep pace with the advancements and demand.”

Bionic fingertip gives sense of touch to amputee

“A bionic fingertip has given an amputee the sensation of rough or smooth textures via electrodes implanted into nerves in his upper arm.

Scientists from EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and SSSA (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy) successfully allowed amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen to receive this sophisticated tactile information in real-time.

The research, published in science journal eLife, says Sørensen is the first person in the world to recognize texture using a bionic fingertip connected to electrodes surgically implanted above his stump.

The nerves in Sørensen’s arm were wired to a machine with the fingertip attached to it. The machine then controlled the movement of the fingertip over pieces of plastic engraved with different textures, either rough or smooth. When the fingertip moved across the plastic, its sensors generated an electrical signal which was translated into a series of electrical spikes that mimic the language of the nervous system. This was then delivered to Sørensen’s nerves.

“When the scientists stimulate my nerves I could feel the vibration and the sense of touch in my phantom index finger,” said Sørensen. “The touching sensations is quite close to when you feel it with your normal finger; you can feel the coarseness of the plates, and the different gaps and ribs.””

Scientists have developed a ‘bionic spinal cord’ to help paraplegics walk

“Scientists at Royal Melbourne Hospital say that they have created a brain implant called the “stentrode” that acts like a bionic spine for paraplegics and quadriplegics.”

Cybathlon will showcase what bionics could do for millions with disabilities

“Following the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, this year will see the arrival of the Cybathlon, the world’s first competition for parathletes and people with severe disabilities who compete with the aid of bionic implants, prosthetics and other assistive technology.

The Cybathlon will include six disciplines, each one specialised to the competitors’ type of physical need. Agility courses test those with bionic arms and legs, while races for powered wheelchairs and powered wearable exoskeletons include tackling obstacles such as flights of stairs. There is also a bike race for paralysed competitors using electronic muscle stimulation to move their legs, and a competition for those who have lost the ability to move their bodies but who are put back in control by means of a brain-computer interface.”

The Insane and Exciting Future of the Bionic Body

“Meyer, 33, is slightly built and has dark features and a friendly face. A native of Hamburg, Germany, currently living in Switzerland, he was born with only an inch or so of arm below the left elbow. He has worn a prosthetic limb on and off since he was 3 months old. The first one was passive, just to get his young mind accustomed to having something foreign attached to his body. When he was 5 years old, he got a hook, which he controlled with a harness across his shoulders. He didn’t wear it much, until he joined the Boy Scouts when he was 12. “The downside is that it is extremely uncomfortable because you’re always wearing the harness,” he says.

This latest iteration is a bionic hand, with each finger driven by its own motor. Inside of the molded forearm are two electrodes that respond to muscular signals in the residual limb: Sending a signal to one electrode opens the hand and to the other closes it. Activating both allows Meyer to rotate the wrist an unnerving 360 degrees. “The metaphor that I use for this is learning how to parallel park your car,” he says as he opens his hand with a whir. At first, it’s a little tricky, but you get the hang of it.

Touch Bionics, the maker of this mechanical wonder, calls it the i-limb. The name represents more than marketing. Improved software, longer-lasting batteries and smaller, more power-efficient microprocessors—the technologies driving the revolution in personal electronics—have ushered in a new era in bionics. In addition to prosthetic limbs, which are more versatile and user-friendly than ever before, researchers have developed functioning prototypes of artificial organs that can take the place of one’s spleen, pancreas or lungs. And an experimental implant that wires the brain to a computer holds the promise of giving quadriplegics control over artificial limbs. Such bionic marvels will increasingly find their way into our lives and our bodies. We have never been so replaceable.”

How Bionic Ears Have Changed People’s Lives

“Sarah Churman first “heard” at 29 years old.

The first time Sarah Churman “heard” her own voice, she was 29 years old. She grinned, laughed, and launched into tears.

“I don’t want to hear myself cry,” she said, covering her mouth. Soon came this observation, “my laughter sounds so loud!”

Sarah Churman was born deaf and the day she first heard her voice was the day her hearing implant was switched on. Her husband filmed her first moments with the device, a video that has been watched more than 20 million times on YouTube.

During the week after her hearing was “turned on” Churman learned many things, she told Today.com — that she had a Texas accent, for example, and that her husband snored.

Over 36 million Americans have some form of hearing loss, according to John Hopkins Medicine.”

Bionic Skin for a Cyborg You

“One decade ago, my research group at the University of Tokyo created a flexible electronic mesh and wrapped it around the mechanical bones of a robotic hand. We had dreamed of making an electronic skin, embedded with temperature and pressure sensors, that could be worn by a robot. If a robotic health aide shook hands with a human patient, we thought, this sensor-clad e-skin would be able to measure some of the person’s vital signs at the same time.

Today we’re still working intensively on e-skin, but our focus is now on applying it directly to the human body. Such a bionic skin could be used to monitor medical conditions or to provide more sensitive and lifelike prosthetics.

But whether we’re building e-skin for robots or people, the underlying technological challenges are the same. Today’s rigid electronics aren’t a good fit with soft human bodies. Creating an electronic skin that can curve around an elbow or a knee requires a thin material that can flex and even stretch without destroying its conductive properties. We need to be able to create large sheets of this stuff and embed it with enough sensors to mimic, at least roughly, the sensitivity of human skin, and we need to do it economically. That’s a tall order, and we’re not there yet. But ultimately, I think engineers will succeed in making e-skins that give people some amazing new abilities.”

VIDEO: What It’s Like To Have A Bionic Eye

“The first glasses in the world, it seems, were created some 700 years ago. It’s taken until this year, 2014, for patients to receive the first FDA-approved bionic eyes. This breakthrough comes via Second Sight, a California company whose Argus II technology revolves around implanting patients with an artificial retina. As of now, only people with severe cases of retinitis pigmentosa qualify to receive a bionic eye. Among them is Lisa Kulik, who shares with Business Insider her story of what it meant to begin losing her sight as a young woman, and how now, decades later, she’s relearning to see again. Produced by Jeff Girion. Edited by Sam Rega.”

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