To be honest, I overslept and missed Dr. Kaplan’s lecture on the brain, so I will talk about another brain-related topic in biomedical engineering: Bionic limbs. It’s not quite about the brain, but in order to connect these prosthetic limbs to people, they need to somehow be connected to the brain.
One arm developed by DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is called DEKA. It can “pick up a raisin or grape and know the difference without looking at it. The hand… is no larger than an average human hand and [weighs] no more than nine pounds.” (EMBS) The bionic arm is connected to the shoulder, where there are nerve endings from the spinal cord. When the amputee thinks about moving their arm, the brain sends electrical impulses which are detected by the DEKA arm, so there is no need to practice using the arm. There were sensors attached that vibrated accordingly when the user picked up a grape or raisin, sending signals back to the brain.
I think this technology is incredible. Nothing will truly replace a real arm, but to have a bionic one send and receive signals from the brain makes it come very close. Once this technology becomes more available, the quality of life for amputees will increase drastically.
We talked a bit about genetic engineering in class. I find this really interesting because of the ethics that go into it. There are many positives, like the ability to edit a gene to remove cancer or genetic diseases. But gene editing brings a moral dilemma: If we had the ability to create designer babies, then would our definition of beautiful or handsome stay the same? It would really increase disparities between higher and lower class because richer people would have more access to genetic engineering. How would we prevent corruption using gene editing?
Our group is working on autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease is where your immune system attacks itself. Some autoimmune diseases like diabetes 1 only target a single organ, like the pancreas, while others attack the whole body. In recent years, more and more people are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. Nobody knows for sure what causes autoimmune diseases, but some may be genetic. Theories behind this include infection and exposure to certain chemicals, having an unhealthy diet, and not being exposed to enough germs as a child, causing the immune system to overreact. Current research focuses on the finding the immunologic root of diseases, using animal models, and developing more effective treatments.
Personally I’m interested in autoimmune diseases because they are similar to allergies, where your immune system also attacks harmless foreign substances. I’m allergic to basically everything so it’d be nice if I could find out why an egg will kill me. Not only that, but my friend has Celiac and I want to find out what can be done to treat diseases like this. These links helped me get a better understanding of autoimmune diseases and what research is being done today: