Science and Technology Views丨Bionics: a powerful technology that crosses physiological barriers

Advances in bionics have already had a huge impact on patients' lives. Implants for vision, hearing, orthopedics, and cardiac and neurological enhancement are all current applications of bionics that have great growth potential.

Hollywood blockbusters and science fiction have imagined a great deal about bionics, and advances in bionics have indeed had a huge impact on the lives of patients. Bionic implants are electronic or mechatronic components that enhance or restore the physical functions of differently abled people. The bionics industry is developing along four main application areas: vision, hearing, orthopedics, and implants that enhance heart and nerve function.

Science and Technology Views丨Bionics: a powerful technology that crosses physiological barriers


Visual Bionics

Bionic eyes - or optic nerve prostheses, also known as visual bionics - are bioelectronic implants that can restore functional vision in people who are partially or completely blind. Bionic eye researchers and device manufacturers face two important challenges: the complexity of mimicking retinal function and consumer preferences (and constraints) for miniature devices that can be implanted in the eye. Despite these challenges, the visual bionics market segment is still full of device prototypes and some commercialized products.

Science and Technology Views丨Bionics: a powerful technology that crosses physiological barriers

One of the best-known companies in this field is Second Sight Medical Products of Sylmar, Calif. Second Sight's Argus II prosthesis consists of a microelectronic array implanted in the retina, a wearable camera and an image processing unit. The camera integrated into the glasses captures images and transmits them to a portable processing unit that wirelessly sends electrical signals to the implanted array. In turn, the array converts these signals into electrical pulses that stimulate retinal cells connected to the optic nerve. Thus, Argus II is the critical link between the object and the optic nerve, bypassing damaged photoreceptors (such as retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease).

The Bionic Vision Australian research consortium, France-based Pixium Vision, and German company Retinal Implant AG are utilizing a similar process.


Auditory Bionics

Cochlear implants, auditory brainstem implants and auditory midbrain implants are three types of neuroprosthetic devices for patients with severe hearing loss. Auditory bionics creates an artificial connection between the sound source and the brain - and is based on this by implanting microelectronic arrays in the cochlea or brainstem.

Science and Technology Views丨Bionics: a powerful technology that crosses physiological barriers

Auditory bionics is more mature as a technology than visual bionics, with a larger ecosystem of innovation, more commercial products, and greater global adoption. The market is dominated by Cochlear Limited (Australia), Advanced Bionics (USA), a division of Sonova, MED-EL (Austria), and a range of smaller regional companies.


Orthopaedic Bionics

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people (about 15% of the world's population) suffer from some form of physical disability, and about 190 million adults suffer from severe functional impairment. Orthopaedic bionics aims to restore motor function (not necessarily sensory function). Bionic limbs are replacing prostheses, and while significant innovations have led to lighter devices and better designs, prostheses have not provided the necessary functional restoration that bionic devices now do.

Science and Technology Views丨Bionics: a powerful technology that crosses physiological barriers

The bionic limb interfaces with the patient's neuromuscular system and uses the brain to control the limb - bending, flexing and grasping. A similar functional pathway exists here: bypassing the damaged peripheral nerves, new electronic pathways connect the mechatronic limb to the brain.

Ottobock (Duderstadt, Germany) has the distinction of creating the world's first fully microprocessor-controlled lower limb prosthetic system. The market leader in lower limb bionics is now working to develop ultra-light bionic limbs that can function without external energy sources. It has been an official partner of the Paralympic Games for more than two decades, a testament to its leadership in this field. new players such as Open Bionics and Touch Bionics (both British startups), Martin Bionics (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) and AlterG (Fremont, California) are bringing the market to life with a variety of products injecting life into the market - from low-cost technologies to robot-assisted limbs and computer-driven vision devices.


The future of bionics

A relatively new space in the bionics industry is that of robotic exoskeletons. As the name implies, these are electromechanical structures worn by patients to benefit from "motor muscles". These power suits help patients with limited or no muscle control to walk, lift weights and move. Exoskeletons are expected to have a huge impact on the rehabilitation of patients with stroke or spinal injuries, as well as patients with degenerative neuromuscular diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The buzz of robotic exoskeletons is also favored in industrial applications for their enhanced physical capabilities, suggesting that we are moving toward human-machine hybrid vehicles.

Article source: