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The Hybrid Human

The invention of prosthetics has come a long way since their initial creation. Today, prosthetics can offer amputees with the hope of mobility and the return to functional life. This article will cover the past, present, and prospects of prosthetics in medicine with a highlighted focus on the innovation of osteointegration and how this genius technology is changing the lives of amputees.

Although ancient civilisations displayed early forms of prosthetics in the shape of rudimentary wooden limbs, prosthetic advancement took place in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with the production of iron prosthetics. The Industrial Revolution along with the First World War gave rise to improvements in prosthetic comfort due to the introduction of plastics and rubber and advancements in production methods. But despite these advancements, prosthetics continued to limit functionality and reduce comfort.

The present-day prosthetic is a far cry from its basic predecessor. Modern technologies like myoelectric bionic limbs use electrodes that detect muscle contraction in the residual muscle and then, convert that to an electrical signal which allows users for more natural limb movements. There are still challenges in the present day with access to cutting-edge prosthetics being limited, and astronomical price points limiting care. Socket-based prosthetic fitting designs remain problematic as they can cause discomfort and health issues with the residual muscle.

This is where I introduce osteointegration. The groundbreaking innovation works by surgically implanting a metal post into the residual bone of the amputated limb. The prosthetic can then directly attach to the metal post, acting like an anchor, eliminating the need for a traditional socket design. The key advantage of osteointegration is improved comfort. The elimination of socket-related issues, such as pressure sores and discomfort, means that amputees can experience a more natural and pain-free wearing experience. Moreover, osteointegrated prostheses provide better stability, allowing for enhanced mobility and balance. Activities that were once previously challenging, like walking on difficult terrain or running, can now be confidently achieved.

The prospects of prosthetic innovation are endless. 3D printing technology enables the creation of personalised prosthetic limbs that fit perfectly to an individual's own specific anatomy. Advanced polymer materials give rise to lighter, more durable, and more lifelike prostheses, and sensory feedback systems being integrated into prosthetic limbs allow users to experience sensations like touch and temperature. All these innovations are bridging the gap between prosthetics and the capabilities of natural limbs.

Looking ahead, the future of prosthetics holds immense promise. Researchers are exploring the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize prosthetic function. Neural interfaces that allow direct communication between the brain and the prosthetic limb are on the horizon, potentially revolutionizing the field. As well as research into digitally creating a twin model of the amputee’s residual muscle allowing professionals to more accurately assess the suitability of the prosthetic. Furthermore, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering are offering hope for limb regeneration in the long term. Could we grow back limbs?

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