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Modern prosthesis: the technology available to amputees today

  • 27.06.2018
  • EmmaArnold
  • None
  • amputation prosthetics prosthesis missing limb

In the last post of the series we looked at the early evolution of prosthetic limbs, but our focus now shifts towards the prosthetic technology that is available today.

At the end of World War II, research and development of prosthetics improved significantly, largely because of the number of people who lost limbs during the conflict. Since then, prosthetics and the technologies behind their development have advanced rapidly to shape the cutting-edge prosthesis that are now available.

3D printing

Some researchers believe that 3D printing has the potential to further transform the prosthesis industry.

Prosthetic limbs are expensive to build and require months of designing and manufacturing, but with 3D printing it may possible to print prosthetic limbs in as little as a day. 3D printed limbs are also comparatively cheap - it only costs approximately £2,000 to print a prosthetic limb - and they’re deeply customisable to suit the patient.

However, the topic continues to divide opinion. Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, reader in biomedical engineering at Newcastle University says: “It’s unfortunately just hype and will never become mainstream. Until we can 3D print neural cells, so that the body doesn’t identify them as a foreign body, this method won’t solve the problem.”

Bionic limbs

‘Bionic’ limbs are amongst some of the most advanced pieces of prosthetic technology available today. Combining electronics, biotechnology, hydraulics and computing, they utilise technology from multiple disciplines to create life-changing tools for people who have undergone amputation.

Myoelectric limbs are the most common ‘bionic’ prosthetics used in the field today. They are best for upper-limb amputees, offering them significant benefits.

In the past, upper-body prosthetics were body-powered using a combination of cables and body movements to control the prosthetic limb, which was physically tiring and can feel unnatural for the wearer. Instead, myoelectric limbs are custom made and powered using a battery and electronics to control movement.

They’re attached to the patient’s limb using suction technology, to ensure a comfortable fit, and use sensors to detect the slightest muscle, nerve and electrical activity. This activity is sent to the surface of the skin where it is amplified and sent to microprocessors, which use the information to control the movements of the artificial limb.

Next in the series

Remember to keep an eye on the blog and our social media channels to find out more about amputee disability and prosthetics over the coming weeks.

Next week, we will be exploring the topic of body augmentation and transhumanism.

To read more about our the future of the prosthetics industry, click here.