This is 2050; the world is full of people with robots, flying cars, artificial intelligence, warp speed, laser swords and humans are enhanced with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. The world is intelligent and smart.
Is this possible? Should I believe this? You might be asking yourself now. Yes, those ultra-enhancements are coming, and some of the technology is here or nearly here. The concept of human augmentation with neural technology, which is also called HPE or human performance enhancement, tends to receive much attention recently. It encompasses a range of futuristic technologies across various disciplines and includes different ways in which we humans might potentially change our nature.
Let’s dive in and know more!
What is neuroprosthetics?
Neural prosthetics (also known as neuroprosthetics) is a field related to neuroscience and biomedical engineering associated with emerging neural prostheses. Neuroprosthetics can be categorized as output neural interfaces, which convert the brain’s intentions to outside activities, or as input neural interfaces, which take info from the environment and turn it into sensitivities (for example cochlear implant and bionic arm). The cochlear implant alternates the functions performed by the ear drum, frequency analysis in the cochlea, and stimulates the auditory nerves directly. A microphone on an external unit collects the sound and processes it; the processed signal is then shifted to an implanted unit that stimulates the auditory nerves through a microelectrode array. (Source: Wikipedia)
The progress of such devices has had a profound influence on the quality of human life. The researchers in this field are envisioned to resolve incapacities and disabilities, but as such an ineffective distinction line is drawn between therapy and enhancement. To the fact that a bionic arm is still much less efficient than a human arm. At some point in future, this technology will become good enough for the prospect of enhancing existing human capabilities.
Types of neural prosthetics include motor prosthetics, visual prosthetics, bladder control implants, for conscious control of movement (Brain-computer interfaces), and even cerebral prosthetics to replicate a brain region such as the hippocampus.
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How does it work and what are the benefits towards “classic” prosthetics?
The brain contains specific cells called neurons. One of the things which make these cells exceptional is that they send data through electrical signals, which travel rapidly through large networks of neurons to organize various brain functions. Many scientists have taken benefit of this electrical signaling in designing and developing neuroprosthetics devices. Electrodes can be utilized to convey electrical current to neurons, and neurons will retort to that current likewise how they react to a signal from another cell. So, scientists can make devices to substitute damaged cells if they know how to imitate the electrical signals normally sent by those cells.
Scientists could create neuroprosthetics for vision and hearing based on studies investigating how visual and auditory neurons functions Visual Neuroprosthetics or Retinal implants. In the case of auditory, sound waves pulsate the eardrum, which conveys the vibrations to a series of little bones inside the ear. Eventually, those mechanical vibrations are transformed into electrical signals by inward ear sensory cells called hair cells. Hair cells then convey these signals to the hearing nerve, which delivers the message from the inner ear to the brain. The procedure is similar to vision, despite the fact, photoreceptors cells located at the back of the eye in a tissue called the retina, create electrical signals when stimulated by light. They connect with the optic nerve to pass on visual info. A developed prosthetics can immensely negate the disabilities of individuals with ear, vision or limb disabilities. These can substitute the natural functions of the body and even can make them superior with the latest developments.
Researches, market, companies developing neuroprosthetics
Neuroprosthetics Market Report, issued by Allied Market Research, estimated that the worldwide Neuroprosthetics market is expected to gather $14 billion by 2020, during the period 2016-2020.
Many types of Neuroprosthetics have been developed based on the application areas, that is, the disease which it treats,
- Motor Neuroprosthetics – treat motor neuron disorders such as Parkinson’s disease;
- Auditory Neuroprosthetics, – treat hearing disorders;
- Retinal implants – treat visual impairment;
- Cognitive Neuroprosthetics – treat severe depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the companies operating in the global neuroprosthetics market are:
- Cochlear Limited designs, manufactures and supplies the Hybrid electro-acoustic implant, Baha bone conduction implant, and Nucleus cochlear implant.
- Boston Scientific Corporation is a global inventor, manufacturer, and marketer of medical devices whose products are used in a range of interventional medical specialties, including interventional cardiology, peripheral interventions, interventional radiology, and neuromodulation.
- Cyberkinetics is the first privately funded neural prosthetic manufacturer.
- Medtronic and Sonova are unique commercial names in the rising market of Deep Brain Stimulation.
- LivaNova, PLC develops devices used for cardiac rhythm management, cardiac surgery, and neuromodulation.
- Hanger, Inc is the foremost provider of orthotic and prosthetic patient care, product supply and therapeutic solutions offering a full range of services for people with limb damage and orthotic requirements.
In 2015, North America overwhelmed the general neuroprosthetics market at over 43% owing to the significant presence of neural implants producers, higher R&D investments, and the accessibility of funds from both government and private research foundations. For instance, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH)in collaboration with the federal agencies are instrumental in giving funds to bolster R&D activities for the further improvement of neuroprosthetics.
Looking at the future
Neural engineering is driving the frontline of neuroprosthetics. As more researchers yield additional knowledge into how neurons in the brain and peripheral nerves support human intention and perception, new methods to effectively interface with the human nervous system will develop. This development of clinical and technical capability will involve many disciplines, including computer science, neuroscience, neurosurgery, and engineering. It is an electrifying time for neural engineers who stand ready to help patients who have faced neurological injury meaningfully.
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