Bionics: The Quest to be more

It is ridiculously funny how most of the science fiction shows we watched as kids seem to all be coming to the real world. But while we don't have true hoverboards yet and space exploration is still the purview of the limited few, other things such as bionics are making their way into functional products. 


But what exactly are bionic implants?

Well, technically speaking, it's a device or an implant made up of a combination of mechanical and electronic components designed to aid a person's mobility by replacing some part of his or her body with a new one. 

Medically, the term “bionic” refers to the replacement of biological organs, tissues, or cells with artificial substitutes that can be controlled by the mind or the sensory nerves in the transplanted site. Such devices can be used for either therapeutic or cosmetic purposes or both. An example of such a device is an artificial arm that is fitted into a patient’s amputated limb socket. It can restore some degree of mobility to the amputee and enable him or her to do certain tasks which otherwise would be impossible. 


The human body is truly amazing. No other living creature on the planet can regenerate lost or damaged cells and repair itself after suffering serious damage. However, this ability is not perfect - in certain situations, the body cannot repair damaged tissue on its own and this is where the applications for bionic technology come in. They are designed to replace or repair defective body parts and restore their function.


What are some of the different types of bionic implants currently available on the market? The most common type of bionic implant is the cochlear implant which is a medical device used to restore hearing to the deaf. This device incorporates both mechanical and electronic components and has an internal microphone that is connected to an external processor that amplifies sound and transmits it via electrodes implanted into the cochlea. Another type of bionic implant is an artificial eye (also called an ocular implant) which is a medical device used to restore sight to the blind. This device incorporates both mechanical and electronic components and has a camera that is connected to an external processing unit that transmits images via the optic nerve to the brain where they are processed as visual information. There are also other types of bionic implants such as prosthetic limbs and spinal implants but these are less common than the aforementioned two examples.


There is a common belief that most amputees are veterans, but the statistics say otherwise. For instance, individuals with diabetic foot ulcers account for 85% of amputations. What’s more, amputations are on the rise: The rate of amputations increased to 50% between 2009 and 2015, up to 4.6 per every 1,000 adults. The increase in amputations was highest among those 18 and 64.


Statistics also indicate African-Americans are four times more likely to have a diabetes-related amputation than Caucasian Americans. It should be noted that veterans may undergo amputations for injuries that are “service attributable” or caused by “off-duty incidents, such as motor vehicle accidents and training accidents.


There is a common belief that most amputees are veterans, but the statistics say otherwise. For instance, individuals with diabetic foot ulcers account for 85% of amputations. What’s more, amputations are on the rise: The rate of amputations increased to 50% between 2009 and 2015, up to 4.6 per every 1,000 adults. The increase in amputations was highest among those 18 and 64.


Statistics also indicate African-Americans are four times more likely to have a diabetes-related amputation than Caucasian Americans. It should be noted that veterans may undergo amputations for injuries that are “service attributable” or caused by “off-duty incidents, such as motor vehicle accidents and training accidents.


Common causes of limb loss include trauma from traffic accidents or sporting accidents, surgery to remove cancerous tumors, accidental crushing or severing of a limb, or severe burns. Amputations are usually carried out as a last resort to save the life of a person suffering from a life-threatening condition such as a tumor or a congenital malformation of the limbs.


Different demographics react differently to dealing with amputations. Infants, children, and young adults tend to adapt well. However, preadolescents and adolescents often feel that their sexual identity is threatened. The elderly may also struggle to adapt if they have poor health, are socially isolated, and are experiencing trouble with finances. Additionally, veterans’ long-term adjustment and identity are influenced by coping approaches, as well as the military and political context of their injuries.


It’s also been indicated that individuals with specific personality characteristics may struggle to adapt. Narcissistic individuals, for example, may feel a loss of self-worth and dignity. People suffering from depression are also more likely to suffer dysphoria. Additionally, timid and self-conscious folks are more likely to suffer psychologically, and pessimistic or paranoid individuals may develop bitterness and resentment as they try to adapt.


The most common causes of limb loss include aneurism ruptures or aneurysms in the arteries leading to the brain, severe burns, gangrene infections of bones, and fractures in bones that can’t be repaired by traditional methods such as casts and braces.


Different demographics react differently to dealing with amputations. Infants, children, and young adults tend to adapt well. However, preadolescents and adolescents often feel that their sexual identity is threatened. The elderly may also struggle to adapt if they have poor health, are socially isolated, and are experiencing trouble with finances. Additionally, veterans’ long-term adjustment and identity are influenced by coping approaches, as well as the military and political context of their injuries.


It’s also been indicated that individuals with specific personality characteristics may struggle to adapt. Narcissistic individuals, for example, may feel a loss of self-worth and dignity. People suffering from depression are also more likely to suffer dysphoria. Additionally, timid and self-conscious folks are more likely to suffer psychologically, and pessimistic or paranoid individuals may develop bitterness and resentment as they try to adapt.


So how do bionics work?

Bionic limbs typically work by detecting signals from the user’s muscles. For example, when a person puts on their bionic limb and flexes the muscles above or below the limb, sensors will react to elicit the appropriate movement. Bionic limbs are often equipped with sensors to detect these muscle movements. So, for example, say you have a bionic arm. When you put on the arm, you flex the muscles you normally would open your hand. This sends a signal to the sensors in the bionic arm to flex the hand.

Most bionic limbs have built-in computers that detect muscle signals. Some bionic limbs require sensors to be implanted into the remaining muscles of the limb stump. This type of bionic limb is much more advanced and can allow users to control the limb with their minds. For example, you may think about moving your leg and your bionic leg will respond by moving.

Many bionic limbs are considered “plug and play,” which means they can be put on and taken off with ease and used only when needed. Bionic limbs do not require surgery to work, but many limbs are custom-built to the specifications of the users’ muscles.

This type of prosthetic limb gives users maximum control and adapts to how quickly or slowly the muscles tense. When the muscles are tensed more gently, the bionic limb will respond slower. When muscles are tensed quickly, the limb will react faster.

 

What’s the endgame for bionics?

This is rather easy to answer. The hope of most researchers studying and advancing this technology is to be a blow to someday completely replace human body parts or augment them in such a way that they exceed the limitations imposed by the human body.  We have already made great strides in making this reality. 

While this might seem like a leap into the realms of science fiction, you have to realize that the basis for most products we see and enjoy today steam from those previously thought to be unrealistic expectations. 


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