You have to go way back to remember the TV programmes The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man. Those who grew up watching them envisioned futures when shattered limbs and defective organs could be replaced with bionic components. We’ve waited a long, long time.
Gradually, we’ve seen bionic-like features added to prosthetic arms and legs (Oscar Pistorius, anyone?), but we’ve never seen anything truly bionic, have we?
Actually, we have
Back in November 2010, Mikka Terho and two other patients were given ‘bionic’ eyes by doctors in Germany. Terho wasn’t born blind or blinded in an accident; he lost his sight as a result of a disease. Thankfully, the damage caused by the disease could be somewhat undone by artificial light sensors and microchips that were placed on the retina (the Telegraph).
According to the Telegraph article, the effects were only temporary, but a recent article by Jean-Louis Santini says that bionic eyes have been successfully implanted in over 60 patients in the United States, and many more in Europe
It’s called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System and was developed by Second Sight Medical Products. Like Terho’s bionic eye, it involves implanting vision enhancers on the retinas. In this case, 60 electrodes are embedded in the retina and the patient has to wear special glasses that include a mini camera.
Other research teams are also working on bionic eyes, such as the team at MIT which is working on a system that uses 400 electrodes, and the team at Stanford University which is working a system that uses photovoltaic cells.
And the rest of the body?
You can get an entire bionic body, pretty much. The catch: the creator has taken the term bionic man very literally and created a robotic ‘man’ complete with internal organs and flowing blood. Rex (robotic exoskeleton) has several (artificially) functioning organs, including a kidney (a dialysis unit), a heart (battery-powered), a spleen (filters blood) and eyes and ears.
The idea was to create a frame showcasing all the advancements that have been in made in the field of bionics, so all of the organs and functions on display can, technically, be used in people.
The good news: Rex only cost $1 million to build, which makes him way more affordable than Lee Majors’ $6 million overhaul.
It’s important to note, however, that the efficacy of each of these bionic body parts depends very much on the cause and the extent of the damage. And they don’t produce the same results for everyone.
We might not live in a world where prosthetics give people the power to leap tall buildings, lift 10 tonne trucks with one arm, and see the Eiffel Tower from the Empire State Building, but advances in bionics are starting to make a real difference in real people’s lives.
- License: Creative Commons image source
Sandy Cosser writes for Skilled Migrant Jobs, which helps professionals find sponsorship jobs in the UK and other major international destinations.