2019’s sure been a year. For South Africa, that means extreme highs and depressing lows, but one things for sure, the country didn’t stop…
Medical science and bio technology has given second chances to so many lives, especially in the form of prostheses. Gone are the days where your life was over if you lost a limb or two. So to honour this achievement in human endurance and scientific method, we’ve made a list of ten body parts that could theoretically be replaced if lost.
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), more people lose their life every year to heart disease than any other disease. Influencing factors such as stress and an unhealthy lifestyle could cause your heart to give in.
Earlier this year, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital made significant improvements in bio-engineering human hearts. These were made up of pieces from donor hearts that were stripped of their cardiac muscle cells and combined with the potential recipient’s stem cells.
The researchers have also created an automated bioreactor which supports the growth of the heart during its growth process. Until scientists have successfully engineered the world’s first heart, transplant recipients will still have to wait in line.
You can print almost anything lately, such as sculptures, usable plastic parts and other mechanisms. More recently though, we can now print prosthetic limbs and ears — ears with superhuman hearing, might I add.
Moulds were constructed by using photogrammetry to map out images of individuals’ ears. The mould itself took just over a day to be constructed, only taking a few minutes to be injected with living cells before being transplanted. The coil-like antennae printed into the ear connects to a “cochlear-like electrode” which can pick up frequencies outside of the human range of hearing.
As a child, you’re lucky if you make it through to your twenties without breaking any bones. After your twenties, bones take a lot longer to heal due to certain factors, according to the National Centre for Biotechnology.
“Healing processes are already ongoing in the child at the time of the fracture. In the adult, these factors must be reawakened, leading to the slower healing time in the adult.”
Luckily, we have a remedy. “Injectable bone”, which is a paste-like substance made from calcium phosphate or calcium sulphate, can repair minor fractures and fill in missing pieces of bone by being injected into the affected area.
The pancreas is one of the most important organs in our body (besides the heart and the brain). It’s in charge of regulating digestion and blood sugar levels. An Artificial Pancreas Device System (APDS) mimics the functions of the pancreas; it’s also categorised into two separate devices (a continuous glucose monitoring system and/or an insulin infusion pump).
The US Food and Drug Administration suggests that “[i]n the future, an APDS will not only track glucose levels in the body but also automatically adjust the delivery of insulin to reduce high blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia) and minimise the incidence of low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia) with little or no input from the patient.”
Limbs are commonly replaced body parts. We’ve all seen the touching story of a soldier returning home with a missing limb, or an ordinary person receiving a second chance at walking again through technologies like prostheses.
Technological innovator Hugh Herr looks to nature when creating bionic limbs. His creations use complex algorithms to simulate and then emulate the exact functions of every fibre of muscle and tendon at different speeds and tensions.
Hands, much like arms and legs, are replaceable as well. Researchers from the University of Chicago are developing a prosthesis which can send and receive signals to the brain through a direct interface. This allows the wearer to have a perceived sense of touch.
“It is now possible to restore hand function in affected patients; but, the indications, advantages, and limitations for either hand transplantation or prosthetic fitting must be carefully considered depending on the level and extent of the limb loss,” according to the NCBI.
Enucleation is the process of removing an infected or damaged eye, thereafter the patient is fitted with an ocular prosthesis. Medical researchers at the Weill Cornell Medical College have developed an artificial retina that’s capable of restoring sight. This was first tested on mice and monkeys, as their retinas are similar to humans’. Researchers are hopeful that this artificial retina could restore sight to the blind.
The Medical College touched on this modern day technology:
Current prosthetics provide blind users with spots and edges of light to help them navigate. This novel device provides the code to restore normal vision. The code is so accurate that it can allow facial features to be discerned and allow animals to track moving images.
Fingers are an essential part of human interactivity and functionality — I wouldn’t be able to type this without my appendages. Losing them wouldn’t mean the end of your life, but everyday tasks would become extremely challenging.
No finger compares to Finnish programmer Jerry Jalava though, who fitted a prosthetic thumb with a flash drive situated in the nail of the prosthesis. It’s a literal thumb drive.
The skin is the largest sensory organ on the body, yet skin grafting is also as susceptible to procedural risk as any other operation. Zhenan Bao, a chimerical engineering professor at Stanford University, is currently developing artificial skin that mimics the function and feel of regular skin. Bao has already seen a breakthrough in her work by giving the artificial skin the ability to feel pressure.
Believe it or not, but your bladder is replaceable too. This process is known as an orthotopic neobladder procedure. The first ever successful procedure was performed on a dog, with scientists eventually growing their own artificial bladder to be transplanted into a human. These artificial bladders are usually grown from the recipient’s damaged tissue.
Doctors are also able to remove tissue from the small intestine to create a new bladder. This technique is only done once it’s been ruled that the bladder is too damaged to be repaired.
The body’s capability and functionality is phenomenal and complex. To get as far as we have in technology today is not only a great feat, but it allows us to live unhindered and uninterrupted. It gives us a second chance at life.
Featured image: Marc Poppleton via Flickr