We are living in exciting times, especially where the development of prosthetic technology is concerned. The past few years saw quantum leaps in research, the trajectory of which points to understanding the human brain and anatomy to create prostheses that increasingly feel more natural to use. Better designs promise a better quality of life for prosthetic users around the world, and there is no doubt that we will see more improvements in the following prosthetic tech this year.
In 2019, we saw some of the first iterations of neuroprosthetic devices that are designed to work outside of a laboratory.
One of them was by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). EPFL researchers developed hand and arm prosthetics that allow the user to regain the sensation of touch through electrodes implanted in the nerves of the residual limb. These electrodes are responsible for sending signals to the brain, allowing the user to feel the things they touch with the artificial limb.
Neuroprosthetics can also be used to minimize or treat phantom limb pain when used in conjunction with visual VR therapy.
Furthermore, 2019 marked a significant development in brain-machine interfaces. Researchers were able to drastically decrease the amount of time required to map a user’s brain properly and train them to control a neuroprosthetic from several days to 30 minutes.
3D-printed prosthetics in the world’s poorest regions
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), millions of people around the world are affected by limb loss. Still, only 10% of those have access to prosthetic care. To address this gap, several companies, like Ayúdame3D, sought to deliver free 3D-printed prosthetic arms to people living in the world’s poorest countries.
Ayúdame3D was able to deliver free artificial arms and hands to people in Chad, El Salvador, Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania, and several cities in Spain. The company plans to set up a worldwide network to reach more underprivileged people in more countries.
3D-printed prosthetics for children
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 1,900 babies are born with a limb reduction defect in the US.
In recent years, innovators used 3D printing technology to create inexpensive prosthetic limbs for children. The availability of 3D-printing artificial limbs means that children who quickly grow out of their prosthetic limbs can use relatively cheaper prostheses.
Several companies and non-profit organizations cater to this demographic, including Limbitless Solutions, which makes 3D-printed prosthetic arms for free. A Limbitless arm costs around $1,000 on average to make, compared to a traditional prosthesis, which, on average, can set back parents around $15,000.
By 2020, the organization aims to deliver 5,000 custom-designed bionic arms to children.What prosthetic developments do you hope to see this year?