Dallas Is at the Cutting Edge of Implantable Electronics

If you thought cyborgs were the stuff of science fiction, you’d be wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a cyborg as a “fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.” It’s a pretty solid definition, but there’s one small problem. These “people” are no longer “fictional or hypothetical” — they’re real human beings who’re walking among us, although their extended physical abilities still have some way to go to match those of Blade Runner’s replicants.

Interestingly, it’s Dallas that’s at the center of innovation in this emerging niche, and in more ways than one. The city is actually at the forefront of two separate movements that are trying to bring electronic implants to the mainstream, with university academics and body modification specialists alike keen to espouse the benefits they can bring.

And while most of us would likely recoil in horror at the idea of someone implanting machines or technology inside our bodies, more than a few brave souls have already offered themselves up as human guinea pigs to do just that.

Once such person identifies himself only as “Anthony E,” and he fits the definition of a cyborg down to a tee. A social worker and self-confessed “body-modding” enthusiast, Anthony was recently fitted with an implanted radio frequency identification chip in his right hand, giving him the unique ability to unlock his Android smartphone simply by picking the device up or just touching it with his robotic hand.

Admittedly, Anthony’s newfound ability is unlikely to make many of us envious, but the potential of implantable electronics goes far beyond enhanced smartphone security. Medicine being one of them. Rob Renneker, a professor of neural engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas, believes electronic implants can be extremely beneficial to brain-damaged patients who’ve lost cognitive functions after suffering from a stroke.

Renneker’s innovation is something called the “Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) implant,” a small electronic circuit board that he wants to implant into patient’s necks. Renneker claims that his implant can stimulate the neurons in a person’s brain and aid their recovery, allowing them to regain control of their limbs and speech far more rapidly than is possible with conventional therapies.

“If I can put this little device in and enhance your stroke therapy twofold or fourfold, it reduces that therapy from a year to three months,” Rennaker told the Dallas Observer.

Renneker’s device isn’t quite ready for prime time, but the professor says he’s hoping to begin clinical trials by the end of this year.

Photo source: Pixabay

Blog post by: Mike Wheatley

Staff Writer