Computerized Simulation of Biological Systems

April 30, 2008

A laboratory called the Neuromuscular Biomechanics Laboratory, which makes computerized simulations of biological systems ranging from molecules to entire organisms, is available to scientists and clinicians studying the mechanisms of neuromuscular disease. These simulations are invaluable in the education of bioengineers and physicians toward the development of new surgeries and medical devices.

The digital humans that walk across the computer screen reveal the complex interplay of muscles, bones, momentum and gravity that makes up human movement through their visible musculoskeletal system. With a few alterations to the computer program that controls the form and function of these mechanisms, the movements of a previously healthy, agile human on the screen change into those with neuromuscular disorders such as stroke, osteoarthritis or Parkinson’s.

Multi-finger Prosthesis

April 28, 2008

By combining new understanding of musculoskeletal signaling with advances in human-to-machine communication, the first multi-finger prosthesis known as the Bionic Hand System has been created. Prosthetic limbs of yesteryears have been largely limited by their unwieldy designs but the recent ones are becoming more and more life-like that even provides users with a more intuitive feel for their adopted limb.

The system uses existing nerve pathways to control individual computer-driven mechanical fingers. It consists of a standard plastic socket and silicone sensor that encases an amputee’s limb below the elbow. The fingers become biomimetic or movements done by normal volitional thinking, after a brief training period. This is because the system relies on the fact that much of the control structures originally operating the fingers are still present and controllable if tapped by the proper sensors.

The Bionic Eye

April 24, 2008

The bionic eye that has been developed in Stanford’s Department of Ophthalmology is actually a retinal prosthesis system consisting of a portable wallet-sized computer processor, a solar or AF- powered battery implanted in the eye, a 3-millimeter light-sensing chip implanted on the retina and a tiny video camera mounted on virtual-reality style pulsed infrared goggles.

The system is designed to stimulate the cells in the retina to perceive images, something which the eye’s own photoreceptors do or no longer do in the case of patients with degenerative retinal disease. The first generation is designed for visual acuity of 20/400, the second for 20/200, with the ultimate target as 20/80. For humans who have had their own photoreceptors destroyed by disease or age, this would mean being able to recognize faces and read large-print type.

Here Comes the Six Billion Dollar Man

April 23, 2008

Television produced the world’s first bionic man from a wounded, barely-living test pilot into a “better, stronger, faster” Six Million Dollar Man. Reality it seems has managed to produce at least a part of such science fiction. In the symposium on the “Six Billion Dollar (Hu)Man”, which is a part of the scientific program of the American Association of Anatomists, the fact that bionic implants can actually mimic the original function, sometimes even surpassing the power of the original organ or other body part comes to the fore.

Bionics replaces or enhances anatomical structure or physiological processes with electrical or mechanical components. It takes place at the interface between bioengineering and anatomy. The possibility of using tissue engineering as a means of replacing organs or organ function has also been floated. Whichever way, it is not surprising if the title is a direct allusion to the cost of achieving at least one bionic or partly bionic man.