Bionic Limbs Research News June 15, 2021

Bionic Limbs Research News June 15 2021

As part of our mission to help those with limb differences learn about bionic limb technology, we periodically report on the latest research news. Below are the most interesting stories that we uncovered over the past month.

A New, Lightweight, Powered Bionic Leg

Let’s start with a little historical context, beginning at 0:58 of this video:

The most interesting part of this video to us is the reduction in size and weight of the lab’s latest bionic prototypes.

To understand why, consider this prototype from nearly two years ago (a joint venture that includes the AbilityLab and the University of Michigan):

As you can see, this leg works. Its power augmentation features make navigating stairs and ramps much easier. But it’s also bulky and heavy, the same as the other powered lower-limb bionic devices like Ossur’s Power Knee and Ottobock’s Empower Ankle.

This is a problem because the people who need power augmentation the most (i.e. those with weaker leg muscles) are the least able to handle heavy prosthetics, especially in those unpowered situations such as swinging a leg out of a car seat or trying to maintain one’s walking balance when the bionic leg is in the air.

Here are a few pictures of a new prototype featuring a much sleeker powered bionic leg:

Lightweight Powered Leg

We’re excited about this development, as it could open up new options for amputees who are older or have less balance and/or leg strength.

We obviously don’t have any video footage of this prototype yet or we would show it to you, but we’ll monitor the prototype’s progress and promise to write a full article on it as soon as more information is available.

The Pros & Cons of Hand Transplants

While exploring the subject of bionic limb research, we sometimes encounter discussions about alternatives such as limb transplants and limb regeneration.

Let’s start on a positive note with a successful hand transplant:

As most of you likely know, there is not a bionic hand anywhere in the world that can match this level of functionality.

But here are some additional details about this transplant including one of its major drawbacks. Please watch the following video from 3:08 to 5:55:

As noted by the surgeon involved in this project, hand transplants, as appealing as they may be in terms of functionality, are not an ideal solution in their current state. Even if we could eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs, there is still no way to scale this solution for the millions of people around the world who might desire it.

The Current Status of Limb Regeneration

Turning our attention to limb regeneration, consider the following short video as good background information on the subject:

Note in this video how scientists seem to be wrestling with such basic questions as the origins of limb regeneration.

Yet, only three days ago, we stumbled across this video about a possible breakthrough on some of these very questions. Please watch from 0:37 to 3:41:

So, what is the truth? Should you stop reading about bionic limbs and just wait around until you can regrow a lost limb?

Here is what a panel of UCLA experts has to say about the prospects of limb transplants and limb regeneration versus bionic limbs, starting at 33:55 and ending at 36:15.

As Dr. Azari points out, the only solution that promises to meet the needs of amputees in the foreseeable future is advanced prosthetics. But as he also says, this will only be achieved if we can create a true sense of embodiment with these devices, i.e. the amputee’s sense that a bionic limb is part of his body and not simply a device. And this can only be achieved with true sensory feedback.

As always, we’ll continue tracking advances in all these fields.

Related Information

Are you interested in bionic limb research? If so, see our complete selection of research articles.

For a comprehensive description of all current upper-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Arms & Hands.

For a comprehensive description of all current lower-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Legs & Feet.