Scientists should continue prosthetic advancements

LindsaySchuring2_6 Colby Patterson
Lindsay Schuring

Lindsay Schuring

I love science fiction, and I love the science that every day sounds more and more like it came straight out of fiction. While I like the utopian dreams of society that we read about in literature and see on the big screen, we haven’t quite reached those levels of technology yet, and we have to make to do with what we have. As our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, the veterans of those wars are returning home, and many of them return not whole in body. Though we have been producing mechanical marvels for years to act as prosthetics for lost limbs, new developments in technology offer fantastic new opportunities. This is an industry that most could take a leaf from — dreaming of things that seemed impossible not so long ago.

According to a Huffington Post article, as of November 2012, there have been 1,572 service members with amputations. Of those, 486 have had multiple limb amputations. These figures, of course, don’t account for civilians who have had needed amputation of different limbs. A study published in 2008 called “Estimating the Prevalence of Limb Loss in the United States: 2005 to 2050” found that one in 190 Americans is living without at least one limb. As these individuals return to their everyday lives, they must adapt to life with a prosthetic limb that, while it may be advanced and impressive, still lacks the tactile sense and immediate control offered by a limb of flesh and blood.

There are multiple different groups working to develop new technology that will allow amputees to feel through their prosthetic limbs. One such group is found at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where researchers have returned sensation to an artificial hand. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has connected a “thought-controlled bionic right leg” to an amputee who used it to climb the Willis Tower in Chicago in 2012.

Even if these new artificial limbs are still experimental creations in labs and not ready for mass production, there is great promise for the future of helping people reclaim lost sensations and allowing for more complicated and intuitive use of artificial limbs. This is a lesson other industries could learn and put to use for the future. Even as some technologies make leaps and bounds, we continue to see many fall behind. Dreaming up new-fangled inventions is not always going to work. Many ideas will fail before they even get off the drawing board. But if we limit our goals to safe achievements that do not move past the status quo we have now, we harm society in immeasurable ways.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu