The Bionic Revolution

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The Bionic Revolution

In an era when technology is revolutionizing industries ranging from energy, to food, to transportation, some of the most exciting applications involve rebuilding the human body so as to dramatically improve our quality of life. The rapid commercialization of these solutions is being enabled by the emergence of a vast, affluent, and enthusiastic market: the aging Baby Boomers of North America and the EU. 

At the same time, breakthroughs in materials science, imaging systems, micro-robotics, and biotechnology are emerging from the labs to enable new procedures and to make existing procedures safer, faster, and cheaper.

One category of advancement that is already having a profound effect on people’s daily lives is the great leap forward in implant technologies. In the very near future, hundreds of thousands of people will gain or regain the gifts of sight, hearing, and mobility. Consider just two real-world examples of technologies that promise to restore sight to the blind:

  • A “lens implant,” called CentraSight, from VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies Inc., is making it possible for Ed Nungesser, aged 74, to see his granddaughter for the first time and once again enjoy watching baseball games. A victim of age-related macular degeneration, Nungesser’s vision had been greatly reduced. The implant, which was placed in just one eye, is a tiny telescope that more than doubles the size of his field of vision, enabling him to greatly improve his quality of life.1 
  • Another device, called a “sub-retinal implant,” is being developed by the company Retinal Implant AG, together with the Institute for Ophthalmic Research at the University of Tuebingen in Germany.2 Placed underneath the retina, where it replaces light receptors that have been lost though disease, the device gives blind people the ability to see shapes and objects within days of being inserted. The sub-retinal implant is essentially a chip that responds to light falling on it, turns that light into electrical impulses, and then interfaces to the eyes’ natural image-processing capabilities. Therefore, a stable visual perception is produced that follows a patient’s eye movements. Because this implant includes a great deal more light receptors than previous retinal devices, it provides an unprecedented clarity of vision.

Meanwhile, advances in hip replacement represent an even bigger technology focus simply because of the huge number of people who will be impacted. Over 1 million Americans each year receive an artificial hip or knee prosthesis. These implants are designed to function for many years; however, in around 17 percent of cases, the implant becomes loose and needs to be replaced early...

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