Engineering makes everyday life better, but in the field of biomedical engineering, some of these breakthroughs can help people overcome life-altering injuries or illnesses.
This week, we're highlighting some of the most significant recent developments in the biomedical world, from spinal-interfaces which have restored walking in monkeys, an electronic pancreas that is a game-changer for diabetics, and a headset which can restore vision for the blind.
A recent study published in Nature describes how the ability to walk was restored in monkeys that were previously paralyzed. The study comes from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)
The study explains that spinal cord injuries prevent the brain from communicating with the necessary control muscles that coordinate walking. While, at the time of the study's publication, there had been successful results with restoring hand movement in individuals with injuries, restoring leg movement is a much more complicated task.
The research team behind the study developed a silicon neural implant that was placed in the area of the brain responsible for leg movement. The implant then communicated using a wireless control system that decoded muscle movement and translated it into electrical pulses. Through this system, the monkeys were able to move uninhibited by wires.
Image © 2015 EPFL/Alain Herzog
The study proved to be successful: the monkeys regained the ability to walk within six days after becoming paralyzed.
The team working on these implants expects that it will be possible to begin human trials in the near future.
Creating an Artificial Pancreas
For individuals with type 1 diabetes, learning how to manage insulin levels is part of everyday life. Many must learn what insulin management works for them through trial-and-error methods with the aid of a monitor and insulin pump.
Up until recently, there was no automated way for an insulin pump to automatically track blood levels and adjust as necessary. The consequence of not managing insulin can range from nerve damage to death. So the need for accurate and responsive monitoring of insulin is critical.
Beta Bionics is hoping to change that with the development of its iLet artificial pancreas. The iLet will feature a user-friendly touch screen and will automatically monitor and deliver the hormones insulin and glucagon to keep blood levels stable.
Image courtesy of Beta Bionics
The device is expected to begin the process of gaining FDA approval in 2017.
Pixium Vision’s Iris II device helps restore partial vision to patients who are otherwise unable to see. The Iris II, which received CE market approval last summer, works through an implant which connects 150 epi-retinal electrodes to the inner retina. The electrodes transmit electrical impulses to the retinas, passing through images of what is being “seen” on the head set’s outer camera.
Image courtesy of Pixium Vision
What makes the Iris II particularly unique is that each pixel of the images transmitted by the camera is updated independently, not relying on refresh rates so as to provide a more realistic, real-time vision experience.
The Iris II is not a permanent device, making it easy to replace or upgrade when better technology becomes available.
Pixium is also currently working on a sub-retinal photovoltaic implant that can be used in patients experiencing age-related macular degeneration.