Engineers transform the world. They are real world problem solvers, and they use technology to advance society. Engineers use science and mathematics to improve and invent. A majority of the products that people use today would not be available without engineering. Biomedical engineers use science, medicine, and math to solve issues. They design machines and equipment to diagnose medical problems. Some Biomedical engineers create and improve artificial body parts and prosthetic limbs. Prosthetics uses artificial limbs to improve the lifestyle and function of people who have lost limbs. Every prosthetic is uniquely designed to meet the needs of the individual in need of a limb. Prosthetics are constructed using materials such as plastics to metals. The reasons that people need prosthetic limbs vary. Some people are born without limbs. Others are lost through accidents and injury; these account for forty-five percent of amputees. Fifty-Four percent of amputations are due to vascular disease. Less than two percent of amputations occur because of cancer.
The first use of prosthetic limbs dates back to ancient Egyptian times. Archaeologists have uncovered the mummy of an Egyptian noblewoman with an artificial toe made of wood and leather. This is believed to be the first prosthetic. In the Dark Ages, about 2,000 years later, most prosthetics were made of a crude iron. These limbs were not very functional and were primarily used to hide the amputation. In the Sixteenth Century, Ambroise Pare, who is considered to be one of the fathers of prosthetic design and amputation methods, brought modern prostheses to the medical community. He created a hand that was mechanical and hinged. It provided greater range in motion similar to a natural hand. This invention was important because it brought together prosthetics and medicine. With the invention of anesthesia in the 1840’s these techniques were more effective. Anesthesia enabled doctors to execute longer and more accurate surgeries which in turn allows for a better fit of the prosthetic. Others have invented artificial limbs with different types of materials. In 1868, it was suggested to use aluminum as opposed to steel to make artificial limbs more functional and lighter.
After the 1950’s, tremendous advancements were made in the field of prostheses. The main reason for these advancements was that United States soldiers returned home from World War II with limb injuries and loss. At this time, The National Academy of Sciences led a campaign to bring about awareness and funding for the improvement of prosthetic devices. As a result of the campaigns, there were new organizations being founded that were strictly devoted to the development and enhancement of prosthetics. Engineers within these organizations created models that provided individuals with a higher level of function and comfort.
Within the last 50 years, prosthetic limbs have advanced to the point where they are actually being considered more efficient than human limbs. Artificial limbs use twenty-five percent less energy than natural limbs. A breakthrough technology called Targeted Muscle Reinnervation redirects nerves that are amputated to control a muscle that is healthy somewhere else in the body. Other technological advances allow robotic prosthetic limbs to be controlled by neural signals from the brain to the artificial limb. These devices work in conjunction with the nervous system and muscles of the body. This technology may allow a prosthetic arm to be controlled the same way that natural arms are controlled. Also, the prosthesis of today helps to alleviate Phantom Pains as well as improves circulation. Phantom Pains are a sensation of pain where the amputated limb once was; many amputees experience this condition. Prosthetics in modern day have made incredible strides for athletes as well. In recent years, such strides have enabled amputees to compete in the Olympics. Nowadays prosthetic limbs can be controlled with the touch of an iPhone app; this has revolutionized the way amputees are able to control their devices with use of their phone. These accomplishments show just how far engineers have come in the prosthetics field.
The future of prosthetics is the epitome of cutting-edge technology. Biomedical engineers are still finding new ways to surpass all other prosthetic innovations of the past. Biomedical engineers are in the process of working on Brain Microchip Technology, a process in which microchips are implanted into the brain to control artificial limbs. Possibly in the future, engineers could expand the use of iPhone technology and create a voice command application, similar to that such as Siri or Bluetooth technology. I believe that in the future, the efficiency of prosthetic limbs could surpass that of a natural limbs function. Maybe in the future, individuals with prosthetic limbs will not be looked upon as having a disability, but as having an advantage.
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