Real-looking tooth implants, artificial limbs with impressive functionality and bioresorbable materials that are dissolved by the body at the end of their useful life – prosthetics and implants have reached such a level that they are much more than just a version of the human original. In actual fact, many of them are hardly inferior to the real thing.
Aurich celebrated a world first on 8 October. 4,600 people watched the first ever cybathlon at a sold-out event at the Kloten Flyers SWISS Arena. Physically disabled people competed against each other with the help of the latest technical assistance systems such as the exoskeleton suit, walking aids and thought-controlled prosthetic arms. Athletes demonstrated what modern assistance systems can do across a total of six disciplines – including an obstacle course using prosthetic legs, a cycle race using electrical muscle stimulation and a virtual race using thought control. Individual courses were deliberately designed to reflect everyday tasks. It was clear that the new technology really can simplify and support the everyday lives of people with disabilities. Prosthetics aren’t really anything new. The oldest prosthetic ever found is 3,500 years old and comes from Egypt. Archaeologists found a prosthetic toe on a female mummy. The hi-tech prosthetics we know today have developed from the simplest of designs of the past. And modern medicine is nowhere near through with the potential for prosthetics design. These days, you can’t just transplant a new artificial limb, hip, knee joint, trachea, oesophagus, blood vessels or have bones fitted but even inner ears and retinas, too. Research is always finding new ways to do things. So making all kinds of prosthetics with 3D printers isn’t just pie in the sky any more. These devices can produce “spare parts” quickly and cheaply.
A prosthetic leg is a hi-tech computer-controlled piece of kit these days – and people don’t even realize they are wearing one any more. This means that cycling and skiing have long been possible with the modern prosthetic leg. This development is particularly evident in disabled sports, where special equipment for top athletes can now deliver results that aren’t that far from the results achieved by non-disabled athletes. Research into prosthetic hands is also making rapid progress. People now have the ability to control their prosthetic hands. Tiny sensors on the muscles in the amputation stump detect minute electric currents, which are boosted and transmitted to electric motors in the prosthesis. This enables patients to open and close their hands. Last year, Austrian researchers at the Medical University of Vienna succeeded in developing an artificial hand that is controlled by the brain. They transplanted thigh muscle tissue and tissue from other parts of the body into the patient’s arm. This created a kind of interactive interface between the person and the artificial hand.
Walking in a robotic suit
TÜV Rheinland is an “Appointed Body” for medical products and in vitro diagnostics. Back in 2012, the company certified the HAL® (Hybrid Assistive Limb) robotic suit developed by Tsukuba University in Japan and robotics company Robotik-Firma Cyberdyne Inc. to Isonorm 13485 – Quality Management Systems for Medical Products. “HAL® is a nerve-controlled exoskeleton used in the rehabilitation of spinal cord injury and heart attack patients,” explains Junya Onae, a medical products expert at TÜV Rheinland. “The brain sends commands to trigger movement via the spinal cord to the patient’s muscle,” continues Onae. The muscle flexes and carries out the movement. This series of signals is partially interrupted in patients with neurological gait disorders, and independent movement is only possible to a limited extent. Sensors capture any remaining impulses, conveying them to the HAL system. HAL® recognizes the impulses and helps the patient make the desired movement. The robotic suit is designed to activate muscle impulses and neural feedback and improve the ability to walk.