by Yang Lu
Terry Fox was determined to raise awareness and fundraise for cancer research. His Marathon of Hope saw him run across Canada, all on a prosthetic leg. But what is a prosthetic, and what advancements have been made to close the gap between artificial and real?
What is a Prosthetic?
A prosthetic is an artificial device that replaces a body part. Prosthetics can be vital to carrying out daily tasks and living independently. They are often needed due to injury or diseases, like the bone cancer that forced Terry to amputate his right leg.
The Future of Prosthetics
Scientists are constantly innovating on prosthetics, all to make them as close to the real thing as possible. Shifts to lighter, more durable materials such as carbon fibre have made prosthetics stronger. Additionally, advancements in 3-D printing allow people to design and build their own. This makes custom-fitted prosthetics more accessible.
However, a critical step is making a prosthetic that can be controlled directly by the brain. Most basic prosthetics use the body’s existing joints to move the artificial ones. But, by using electrical receptors, new prosthetics are able to receive messages directly from the brain, allowing for more complex, natural movements. Scientists have also developed tactile sensors that could allow prosthetics to relay touch sensations to the brain.
Prosthetics have come a long way since Terry Fox ran his marathon. His prosthetic leg was heavy, cumbersome, and originally made for walking. Compare that to today, where hundreds of different types of prosthetics have been made, like the running “blades” seen at the Olympics. Innovations in control and dexterity mean that the gap between artificial and real has never been smaller. We have never been closer to creating a prosthetic that feels as natural as the real thing.