August 20, 2015

Future Wholeness – The Advances in Prosthetics

BY :     August 20, 2015

buttercups_new_foot_3d_printed_prosthetic_footIn the age of the Internet of Things I am eagerly anticipating new amazing research. Something that I have been specifically following in the news, is the advances in prosthetics. 
When I was a kid I met a number of amputees who were struggling through life with the loss of their limb(s). My father worked as an HR manager at a government company that provided a workplace for people who had trouble finding jobs due to mental or physical disabilities. At that time, I met many of his colleagues and they instilled in me a desire to find ways to restore and/or improve the lives of people who lost mobility through the loss of limb or movement in limbs.

A very important image in my mind was the scene from the movie “Star Wars, the empire strikes back” where after losing his hand in a battle with his father, Luke Skywalker (the protagonist) gets a new hand fitted. I have been hoping for advances in electronics that could make a prosthetic like that possible.

In the past few years the advances that have emerged in this field have made my mind boggle. These advances were not just in electronics and mechanics, they have also been in the understanding of phantom pain, and treatment for that. One of the treatments is mirror treatment, where the visible movement of a missing limb is recreated by seeing the mirror image of the existing other limb make the same movement. This could of course be helped by actually having the limb back, but since growing limbs is still in its infancy, it may be a long time before we get that.

In the meantime, there have been advances in making the amputee feel again. This could be the next thing in treatment, seeing your artificial hand move does not do much to counter phantom pain. But when you can feel it move or touch again – that would definitely help.

As we also see advances in 3D printing we have been able to see new feet being printed for ducks and we have seen that it is possible to help young kids by printing a new prosthetic for them.

My interest in these advances also keep me looking for new developments in the field of electronic interfaces. One interesting development has been around for several years already. It’s the epidermal electronics development which make wearing electronics (essential with advanced prosthetics) lightweight enough to not hinder. I have not seen this kind of electronics be integrated with electronic prosthetics, but I am hopeful these fields of study will eventually merge.

Using an epidermal electronic interface may help in the development of a lightweight exoskeleton that can help people who have lost mobility, either with or without limbs. I wish this would have been possible for my friend Philippe  who died of muscle dystrophy this year. A hero in his own right with a tremendous will to live.

I will keep monitoring the news and web for new discoveries and maybe, if I am lucky, I may help people become whole again, man aided by machine.

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    *Opinions expressed on this blog reflect the writer’s views and not the position of the Sogeti Group