Bionics meets ergonomics. Many of the new and not-so-new miniaturized implants for the human body enable people with disabilities to lead more fulfilling and productive lives.
The Times newspaper in Britain recently described an operation that gave an American woman, whose entire left side was paralyzed after a stroke, a new life. In 2004 doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago placed a postage-stamp sized patch containing electrodes on the protective membrane covering Judith Walsh’s brain. This bathed the damaged area with electricity and gave her the ability to drive and to use her atrophied left arm and hand.
Patients with severe and intractable depression found relief, according to The Times, after implanted electrodes began stimulating the nerve that runs from the brain to the abdomen. A similar implant helps obese patients control their eating and epilepsy sufferers find relief from seizures.
Around the world cochlear implants are improving the lives of thousands of people without hearing. They work via a computer chip implanted just above the ear. Advanced Bionics Corporation and Phonak, Inc. recently released the Auria iConnect, which adds an ergonomic improvement to cochlear implants. A wireless FM adapter, it simplifies many activities for wearers of the devices.
Advanced Bionics is testing a rechargeable electrical stimulator so tiny that it could be injected anywhere in the body to treat pain or muscle dysfunction. The Times points out that the great advantage of implants is that they can relieve symptoms without the side effects that plague most drug treatments for serious conditions.
The Times: BBC; Advanced Bionics Corporation; Second Sight