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As a medical device, a prosthesis is responsible for replacing a body part that is missing and giving at least partial functionality to the recipient. The field of biomechatronics is at the heart of prosthesis development, with engineering and medical experts creating the latest designs of prosthetic limbs and body parts. Although prostheses have a history that dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Roman times, it is only in the 20th century that prostheses with a high degree of effectiveness have been created.
Prior to the early 1950s, the prosthetic models were often crude and served a very basic function in replacing a limb that was missing due to birth defects or injuries. However, the end of World War II left many soldiers with lost limbs and the return of the soldiers to the United States created a push for better prosthetic options. Thus, the National Academy of Sciences led the campaign for an improvement in the devices through increased research and development. Since this time there has been more awareness about prosthetic improvements and several professional organizations have been created to encourage technology advancements in the prostheses industry, leading to new models that provide a new level of comfort and functional ability for the user.
While the vast majority of prostheses exist as a stand alone device that replaces a limb or body part, there are also prosthetic device that interact with the muscles and nervous system of the body. By detecting the neural signals that are sent to the limbs from the brain, a person with a robotic prosthetic arm may be able to control the limb in the same manner that a normal arm would be used. These robotic prostheses also have sensors that can react to force and load, thus creating the best possible equivalent to having the same natural limb. Hearing aids and artificial eyes are other examples of these type of prostheses that are directly connected to the person’s existing nervous system and provide improved function through an exchange of information.
In modern times, the latest prosthetic limbs have proven to be even more effective than natural limbs. A case in point is found with the competitive runner, Oscar Pistorius, from South Africa. Using state of the art prosthetic lower legs, Pistorius was denied eligibility to compete in the Summer Olympics competition of 2008. A study of the prosthetic legs found that they were actually more efficient than the competitors with normal legs, using 25% less energy. While this is only one example of how a prosthetic limb has become a more effective option, the advancements in technology are expected to lead to the creation of many prostheses that actually improve the body’s function further than its natural limitations.