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The Bionic Future

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Bionics is becoming more and more of a hot area in research, says Robert Shepherd, Ph.D., director of the Bionic Ear Institute in East Melbourne, Australia.

Shepherd recently spoke to Handshake about current developments in bionics, and gave some insight into the future of research.

Artificial arms and ears are just the tip of the iceberg for bionics. Some of the technological advancements Shepherd spoke of, such as a treatment for epileptic seizures, involved electrodes being implanted directly into a patient’s brain that can record EEG’s and detect the onset of a seizure electrophysiologically.

Deep brain stimulation is also being used to treat tremors in Parkinson’s patients by implanting electrodes that can stimulate very small area of neurons deep within the brain to turn off the tremor associated with the disease.

Soon deep brain stimulation may be able to do more:

“We’re certainly interested in developing a device that does not necessarily electrically stimulate damaged nerves, but will under controlled conditions be able to release therapeutic drugs,” he says.

Who could benefit from this? Anyone suffering from depression, obesity, or even Type 1 diabetes. A system like this would allow the drugs to be administered in a closed-loop system, where the patient would not only have to take no action to administer the treatment but may not even be aware it’s taking place.

With man meeting technology so quickly, the idea that individuals could use bionic advancements to physically enhance perfectly healthy bodies is a question on many minds, and a possibility that opens up a large ethical debate.

Though Shepherd stresses that he doesn’t work in science fiction, this debate of the future of bionics is something even he believes could be technically possible.

“It opens up a number of ethical issues we’d have to be very careful with. We’d have to have significant community debate before those sorts of technologies were even undertaken.”

For more on the future of bionics read our article in the September issue of Handshake!

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