The Body Bionic:
The Miracles of Modern Medicine
Written by Heidi Nestor, Writer and Editor, Life Alert
A shattered arm gets replaced with titanium bones
and a computer interface for maximum control and strength. An amputated
leg gets substituted by steel knees, carbon fibers, and a mini
processor. Modern medicine has
the technology to rebuild the human body, making it
better…stronger…faster through bionics. Although this may sound like a
popular 70’s TV show, this article is about the reality of rebuilding
the body, even as we age. So
imagine a current day Lee Majors (70+ years of age), skipping his
afternoon nap to run a triathlon. The idea of a Six Million Dollar man
is no longer sci-fi, but is actually in the field of current day
Body Meets Machine.
The Center for Bionic Medicine (CBM) is a research
and rehabilitation institute focused on improving the function and
quality of life for people who have suffered limb loss. The center’s
director, Dr. Todd Kuiken, explains very simply that amputees who have
lost a hand and wrist are able to operate a prostatic hand through
myoelectric prostheses, a motorized device controlled by little
electrical signals from your muscles, so every time the person contracts
their muscle it generates electricity that can be recorded and repeated.
Myoelectric Prostheses is intuitive and works well if the
amputee’s loss is minimal.
But what if an entire arm – all the way up to the
shoulder – is removed? CBM has pioneered a technique called "targeted
reinnervation" to improve myoelectric prosthesis function. According to CBM:
Amputated nerves are transferred to spare muscle
and skin in an amputee's residual limb. The nerves grow into the muscle
to provide additional control signals for the operation of prosthesis.
This allows patients to control multiple functions in their prosthesis
at the same time in an easier, more natural manner.
Although this may seem like the beginnings of the
Star Trek’s Borg, a pseudo-race of cyborgs, this is real revolutionary science; Sci-fi
meets the medical industry.
What’s even more amazing about "targeted
reinnervation" is that it is brain, not battery, operated. Simply put,
when the body’s nervous system is still intact, even though a limb may
not be, nerves continue to put out command signals.
When the brain sends a message to move an arm, the nerves are
still functioning and flickering whether the arm is there or not.
Reinnervation process weaves the protestic wires with the nerves
so when the brain sends a message to move an arm, the nerves - now
combined with the prostectic limb - reacts and performs the command.
But don’t think that a mechanical limb can’t feel
anything. According to the CBM website, after a reinnervation procedure
“sensory reinnervation takes place where the patient feels touch to the
reinnervated skin as being applied to their missing limb.” This may
allow the amputee to actually "feel" what they are touching with a
Through these studies, CBM is working to develop a
state-of-the-art prosthesis that includes shoulder, elbow, wrist and
hand components, as well as haptic interfaces, a technology that
provides touch and sensation feedback.
Controlling all of this machinery occurs through the nervous
system and the thought process so, these bionics are intuitive.
Although this gives hope to a younger generation
that may be born with dysfunctional arms and legs, or may loose limbs in
an accident, this can also serve our venereal elders.
Senior citizens are aging more healthfully than
ever before. Diet and
exercise is becoming critical elements to remaining independent and
young at heart. So when a
severe case of diabetes causes a 60+ year old to lose a leg, or if an
auto accident leaves an active 70 year old limbless, "targeted
reinnervation" can provide solace in regaining one’s freedom and
But until the day when bionic parts are as mainstream as teeth
implants, there still remains one of the simplest and inexpensive ways
to regain and maintain one’s freedom and independence, and that is
through Life Alert Protection.
If you haven’t yet received bionic knees to lift you up when you
fall, our service provides peace of mind in knowing that all you need do
is push the emergency button on our medical alert pendant and help will
be summoned fast, 24/7.
The articles on this Life Alert
website are covered by a Creative Commons License
. You are free
to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work --under the following conditions: Attribution --
You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Please go to the Creative Commons License
site for more information on the CC license that applies to this work.
For more information about Life Alert
and its many services and benefits for seniors – available in New York
, California, Florida, and other states nationwide -- please visit the following websites: