Transplantation science has moved into the future. Based on advances in technologies like 3D printing and biological/mechanical communication, researchers and scientists are creating human organs, “printing” tumors to assess the efficacy of chemotherapies, and designing thought-controlled artificial limbs. And some these advances are already improving the lives of patients.
An Artificial Heart
The SynCardia artificial heart has already been used in 1250 patients awaiting a heart transplant. Paired with a backpack-sized driver that keeps it going, the device allows people to ambulate, live at home, and exercise while they await transplantation. The FDA just gave SynCardia the green light to study whether the instrument could be a permanent solution in people for whom transplant isn’t an option.
Many of today’s prosthetics not only function like actual body parts and organs but more and more they look realistic, too. Printed prostheses are being developed with anatomically correct shapes along with cosmetic details such as freckles, fingerprints, painted nails, hair, and even tattoos. Lifelike prosthetics could help assuage the emotional trauma that comes with the loss of a limb.
For nearly a decade, Hargrove and fellow scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have studied the way brain signals travel down nerves to control the movement of limbs. They’ve captured those brain signals and used them to optimize the designs of what they call bionic prosthetic limbs.
“We now have robotic arms and legs that are quite strong and of reasonable weight, and now we’re trying to figure out how the person can control or move them intuitively, he says. “When you want to move your arm or walk, you do it without actually thinking. If you have a prosthetic, no matter how mechanically advanced, you can’t control it mentally, it’s like operating a crane on the side of your body.”