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Medical Miracles: Limb Prosthetics

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Kelcie Lee, Class of 2017, is a senior at Monona Grove High School. She will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall and will be studying Biochemistry. She is intrigued by the human body and all of the mysteries that have yet to be uncovered. Artificial limbs interested her because of the recent research and discovery that doctors and scientists could restore complete function and sense of feeling in prosthetics. Giving back normal function to victims of amputation or limb loss truly is a medical miracle. She is hopeful that in the future, she too will be able to conduct research and change the face of medicine.

The Ever Evolving Invention: Limb Prosthetics

Medical Miracle

Limb prosthetics date back much farther than we would think. The Egyptians were the early pioneers of prosthetic limbs. Their prosthetics were made of fiber and were believed to serve for a sense of wholeness rather than functionality. As time went on, prosthetic limbs began improving their functionality, comfort, and appearance. Next came the bronze and iron legs, wooden pegs and hooks, and then modern prosthetic technology. Early use of prosthetics is connected to injuries sustained in combat. Many amputee victims were the first to experiment with prosthetics, as well as individuals who were born without a particular limb. Before prosthetics were available, people were unable to perform simple, everyday tasks such as walking, running, working, cooking, cleaning, dressing, etc. Limb prosthetics not only gave those people the opportunity to have normal or almost normal function in that limb again, but also boosted their self-confidence.

To learn more about the evolution of limb prosthetics, visit this website

Significant Discovery

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio have reestablished sensation through an artificial hand, allowing the individual to sense differences in pressure and texture. They have also developed pattern recognition where the prosthetic is able to read nerve signals from the individual. "We can get people to view the limb as if it actually belongs to them," says Paul Marasco, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, who works on sensation and prosthetics. "We're getting a critical mass of research, not just results here and there, so I think this is really going to happen in five to ten years." Of course, there is still a lot of advances, such as making it wireless rather than wired, that need to occur before these prosthetics are available for daily use. Scientists emphasize that this is still experimental and they are still conducting research on this new discovery, but they are hopeful that in the near future it will be perfected and it will be huge. 

Emerging Innovations

Prosthetics are becoming more and more like natural limbs each and everyday. With the recent discoveries that we can give limbless patients a sense of feeling and function in their prosthetic that is in place of their missing limb, even more extensive and astonishing advancements have surfaced. When the idea of limb prosthetics came about, their original purpose was to fill the hole and maybe help someone walk. Since then, scientists have vastly improved the performance of the artificial limb, some even restoring complete function and even sense of feeling. In recent research, a new prosthetic limb has been discovered that will allow the patient to control it with his or her mind. If scientists can come up with a way to make this prosthetic wireless, this could allow patients to use these prosthetics daily and for the rest of their lives. Although limb prosthetics have come far, there are endless possibilities of new innovations. 

Social Impact

Positive Effects   Negative Effects
  • Allows normal or almost normal function of natural body part
  • Increases lifespan
  • More mobility
  • Irritating
  • Difficult to use
  • Some require surgery
  • Sometimes limited motion
  • Orthotic and prosthetic specialists
  • Physical therapy/rehab
  • Extensive training
  • Increases confidence and self-esteem
  • Restores sense of wholeness
  • Socially accepted
  • Body is a temple
  • Artificial limbs have an advantage over natural limbs
  • There is the fear that people who do not need prosthetics will want them for advantages
  • Insurance coverage
  • Most veterans who suffered limb loss have prosthetics and accessories covered by the military
  • Expensive initial cost
  • Expensive cost of repairs
  • Maintenance

Although there are ups and downs about limb prosthetics, a lot of good can come out of this invention. The pros far outweigh the cons. Patients struggling with limb loss or amputation deserve to have their life back. People will look for any second chances they can get. Artificial limbs are a second chance for amputees and birth defect victims. 



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What do you think?

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Future Directions

As of now, the next step for limb prosthetics includes making the devices wireless meaning they will function like a regular limb without having to be hooked up to anything. The patients would then be able to use them at home freely without having to even think about it. Scientists and doctors are always hopeful that future bionic limbs will function better, feel better/normal, and look better. Another aspiration is to allow patients to completely control the bionic limb with their mind, just as they would with the natural limb. The end goal for limb prosthetics is to make patients and victims of limb loss to live a happy, fulfilled, and normal life despite their physical disadvantages. Limb prosthetics is their chance to feel, look, and act normal. 

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