Our March Towards Cyborgs
After my cautionary series on privacy and the consumer, I thought I'd switch gears and focus on some exciting medical technology advances coming your way.
First up is a recent bionic eye implant procedure on an 88-year-old UK woman. She'd lost her eyesight due to a condition most commonly associated with aging. Macular Degeneration can occur as you get older which is why it's important to get a full eye exam every year after the age of 45. Signs can be changes in how you see lines, blurred edges, problems adjusting to light, etc. The procedure was successful and the patient was dubbed "Bionic Nana" by her grandchildren. Two tiny microchips were implanted in her retina and special glasses enable them to communicate with a computer that helps her to see. A wonderfully hopeful advance for those facing the loss of eyesight. Check out the post on Mashable for a cool video of cyborg granny in action.
This next innovation is truly exciting for those who've been following the latest in bio-printing body parts. 3DBio Therapeutics has successfully 3D printed a human ear using the patient's own cartilage cells in a recent human trial. This approach is ideal because the ear will be able to not only continue to regenerate over the lifetime of the patient but the use of their cells limits rejection. This news is exciting because the possibility of other bio-printed tissue is on the horizon. We may be able to print out a new rotator cuff for torn shoulders, noses for burn victims, and much more without the pain and healing of taking grafts from other parts of the body. What's more, there are already companies working on printing lungs, livers, and even hearts! Yay, science!
Bionic hearts! Northwestern University recently introduced a smart pacemaker that dissolves when it's no longer needed. The implantable device connects with a network of wireless sensors which are soft and attached outside the upper body.
The pacemaker can be used to support patients after surgery or those waiting for a permanent pacemaker. It works like a natural biofeedback loop and monitors not only the heart's electrical activity, but also the amount of oxygen in the patient's system, overall muscle tone, how much the patient moves, and even body temperature. All of this information is run through a system that predicts and tracks irregular heart activity. Plus, it streams the information to the doctor who can monitor patients in real-time. This soft, flexible system is apparently gentle enough for newborn babies born with holes in their hearts, many of which rely on pacemakers until they can tolerate treatment.
For a twist in biomedical design. Researchers have designed a microchip that mimics the way human neurons work. This is great news because human brain cells use much less energy than typical microchips do. Developed at the University of Bath to combat neurological diseases, these tiny chips mimic the brain's own activity. The artificial neurons respond to the brain's electrical activity just like real cells. People with degenerating cells can bypass the diseased neurons and regain function and there is even speculation that this technology may be a breakthrough in the field of spinal cord injury as well. Awesome!
Even though I tend to be cautious about consumer technology, I am truly excited about the news coming out of the biotech industry this month. And speaking of the brain-computer interface, stay tuned for my blog post on what will happen when we truly marry the human brain with artificial intelligence. That's up next...