What are the latest technologies humans are using to change themselves?
Gene therapy has the potential to improve the interaction between human tissue and bioimplants. By delivering gene therapy to the inner ear, underdeveloped or damaged auditory nerves could be encouraged to regrow. The theory is that as a result, the implant will work more similarly to the human ear and provide the user with a more natural sound.
Researchers from Stanford University, California, believe photovoltaic arrays of pixels may just be the answer to curing blindness. By inserting electrodes between the retina and the retinal pigment epithelium, a thin layer of cells, the electrodes stimulate the inner retinal neurons. This allows them to transmit signals to the brain while preserving the body’s natural signal processing network.
Scientists are currently developing ways to connect prosthetic arms and hands to the nervous system. The hope is that this will result in even greater control of bionic arms by allowing the brain to directly control their movements, much like it does with natural limbs. Bioengineers can either connect the limbs directly to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or to the peripheral nervous system (nerves that connect the extremities with the brain and spine).
Using 3D printing, scientists have been able to create intricate scaffolds that mimic structures in the human body. This technique allows the growth of tissues for implantation, letting doctors and scientists make scaffolds that are created specifically for the task at hand. It is hoped that this specificity will increase biocompatibility and result in the recipient receiving an implant that feels almost completely natural to them.
Many bone injuries are complex and difficult to repair using existing methods. However, bioactive silica fibre structures encourage the growth of bone tissue and researchers have recently developed a technique allowing them to create very flexible, cotton-candy-like silica structures that can be packed into damaged areas to stimulate healing. Whilst reserved for areas of the body that do not bear much weight, this technique would nonetheless simplify treatment by allowing a surgeon or dentist to simply ‘push’ the material into the affected area.
Arutyun Arutyunyan, MSc Advanced Materials Science and Engineering