How Bionics Can Aid Patients with Neurological Functions?

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Understanding bionics, its significance and types helping in enhancing neurological functions.

The scientific and technological creation of artificial sensory human body parts is one of the incredible breakthroughs of the 21st century. This biologically inspired engineering, known as Bionics, is the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology. Bionics typically uses knowledge about how biological systems work to help solve engineering problems. Examples of bionics in engineering are the hulls of boats emulating the thick skin of dolphins; sonar, radar, and medical ultrasound imaging imitating animal echolocation.

Bionic hands, for instance, are embedded in a variety of sensors that transmit information about the state of the hand and its interactions with objects. The information then can be garnered by sensing grasp force from the torque exerted by the motors that drive the fingers or by directly sensing the force imparted on the fingertips. 

In the medicine landscape, bionics refers to the replacement or enhancement of organs or body parts by mechanical versions. However, bionic implants differ from mere prostheses by mimicking the original function very closely, or even surpassing it.

As noted by Alliance of Advanced BioMedical Engineering, the bionics industry has progressed along four major application areas – vision, hearing, orthopedics and a small, motley group of implants that enhance cardiac and neurological functions.


Vision Bionics

The bionic eye, also known as visual neuroprosthesis and vision bionics, is bioelectronic implants that restore functional vision to people suffering from partial or total blindness. When designing bionic eyes, researchers and device manufacturers deal with two significant challenges: the complexity of mimicking retinal function and the consumer preference and constraint for miniature devices that can be implanted into the eye. Despite these challenges, the vision bionics market is teeming with device prototypes and some commercialized products as well.


Auditory Bionics

It creates an artificial link between the source of the sound and the brain, with a microelectronic array implanted either in the cochlea or the brain stem. This is significantly vital for people suffering from profound hearing loss. Auditory bionics is more mature as a technology than vision bionics, with a larger innovation ecosystem, more commercial products, and greater adoption globally.


Orthopedic Bionics

Orthopedic bionics are designed to restore motor function to the physically challenged people. As the WHO report shows there are over 1 billion people, approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, living with some form of physical disability, and about 190 million adults have a major functional difficulty, orthopedic bionics can play a substantial role. For instance, bionic limbs are replacing prosthetic limbs, which were standard fare for more than 100 years. A bionic limb is designed with a patient’s neuromuscular system for limb control, flexing, bending and grasping, using the brain.

Recently, IEEE Spectrum noted bionic knees, ankles and legs that are under development worldwide to help patients walk and be equipped with electric motors. However, developing such control systems has proven difficult. “The challenge stems from the fact that these limbs support a person’s body weight,” says Elliott Rouse, a biomedical engineer and director of the neurobionics lab at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This is why many research groups don’t have access to prosthetic legs for testing purposes yet.

However, to address this problem, Rouse and his colleagues built the Open Source Leg, detailing their research findings in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Accompanying the artificial limb are free-to-copy step-by-step guides meant to assist researchers looking to assemble it or order parts for it. The scientists have also produced videos demonstrating how to build and test the hardware, and has developed code for programming the prosthetic to walk using a preliminary control system.