1950s "bionic" arm

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When I was young in the 1970s, I was blown away by photos of the 1950s battery-powered "bionic" arm invented by IBM engineer SW Alderson. The technology is now more than 60 years old and it still looks futuristic to me.

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The Bionic Men of World War I

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Medical historian Thomas Schlich wrote a fascinating essay for CNN about the history of prosthetic body parts and the "Bionic Men of World War I." From his article:

In all nations involved in the war an emerging generation of so-called "war cripples," as they were referred to in Germany, loomed ominously over the pension and welfare system, and many government bureaucrats, military leaders and civilians worried about their long-term fate.

One solution was returning mutilated soldiers to the workforce. Various prostheses were designed to make that possible, pushing prosthesis manufacturing in many countries from a cottage industry towards modern mass production.

In the United States the Artificial Limb Laboratory was established in 1917 at the Walter Reed General Hospital, in conjunction with the Army Medical School, with the goal to give every amputee soldier a "modern limb," enabling them to pass as able-bodied citizens in the workplace. While the United States remained the largest producer of artificial limbs worldwide, Germany's prosthetic developments incorporated a particular quest for efficiency.

German orthopedists, engineers and scientists invented more than 300 new kinds of arms and legs and other prosthetic devices to help. Artificial legs made of wood or metal, sometimes relatively rudimentary, and often recreating the knee-joint in some way, enabled leg-amputees to stand and move around unaided.

Wireless restoration of sight to the blind (rats)

Stanford researchers developed a retinal prosthesis that wirelessly transmits images from a video camera in a pair of glasses directly to a chip implanted inside the retina tissue. The innovations of lead scientist Daniel Palanker and his colleagues is that their system does away with any cable between the implant and the video eyeglasses, and buries the chip in the sub-retinal layers of the eye instead of on its surface to eliminate a kind of interference. They published their latest breakthroughs in the science journal Nature Communications. From Medical Daily:

In this study, Palanker's team from the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory placed these second-generation implants into the retinas of rats with or without macular degeneration. The researchers found that the new bionic retinas could transmit images into the minds of rats, which was observed by measuring brain activity in the visual centers of the rodents' brains.
"Solar-Powered Bionic Eye Developed By Stanford Scientist" (Medical Daily)

Restoration of Sight to the Blind: Optoelectronic Retinal Prosthesis (Daniel Palanker)

Building a "bionic man"

IMG 2209 This is Rex, a $1 million "bionic man" built in the UK by roboticists Richard Walker and Matthew Godden. Rex was the star of a new Channel 4 documentary titled "How to Build A Bionic Man." Rex is outfitted with a variety of synthetic systems and appendages, from prosthetic limbs to a cochlear implant, artificial pancreas to retinal implant. He's now on display at the London Science Museum but will visit America in October to promote the Smithsonian Channel's US premier of the documentary, retitled "Cyborg/Frankenstein."

Amputee with nerve-controlled bionic leg makes historic climb in Chicago skyscraper

31-year-old amputee Zac Vawter made medical history Sunday, climbing 103 stories of the Willis Tower with a state-of-the-art bionic leg controlled by electrical impulses from the muscles in his upper leg, including a rewired hamstring. He finished the climb in 45 minutes. More at the Chicago Trib, and CNN.