Life-Changing Medical Inventions Worth Watching
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Life-Changing Medical Inventions Worth Watching

From bionic eyes to robotic legs, an avalanche of recent innovations in medical gadgetry is improving life for millions of North Americans of all ages. We wanted to tell you about four exciting breakthroughs -- they made the Cleveland Clinic’s “Top 10 Medical Innovations List” in recent years -- that are making the world a better place.
 
The Bionic Retina
For more than 100,000 Americans and 1.5 million people around the world, the inherited eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa (RP),slowly destroys light-sensitive cells in the retina of the eye. Side vision and night vision are the first to go, followed by dimming of forward vision and the loss of the ability to see colors. Total blindness is rare, but vision may be so compromised that it becomes difficult to handle everyday tasks. An FDA-approved bionic retina restores enough vision to allow a person with RP to function much more independently.
 
The device works by sending signals from a wearable video unit to electrodes implanted in the eyes. Studies show it can help people with RP walk alone on sidewalks, read large-print books and even match socks!     
 
The future: Now, researchers are testing the bionic eye in people with age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness that affects millions of people after age 50.
 
Nerve Stimulator for Migraines and Cluster Headaches
Ten million Americans (mostly women) suffer from migraine headaches; they account for 113 million lost workdays annually. Another 1.3 million or so (mostly men) have cluster headaches, which can cause pain so severe they’re dubbed suicide headaches. Although medications and lifestyle changes help control migraines (and sometimes cluster headaches respond to inhaling pure oxygen), an experimental, patient-controlled device holds the promise of stopping these big headaches in their tracks. The device, smaller than an almond, is implanted in the upper gum. It’s remote-controlled by a device similar to a smartphone and stimulates facial nerves called the sphenopalatine ganglion. It’s been shown to control even the most severe pain.
 
The future: Researchers at Ohio State University have started testing neurostimulation for cluster headaches. Tests for people with migraines are expected to start soon in the U.S. To see if there’s a clinical trial you can join, look at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Wearable Robotic Devices
As many as 1 million Americans have lost a hand, foot, arm, or leg to amputation -- by 2050 the number is estimated to hit 4 million. Diabetes, war and traffic accidents are common causes. Now, scientists are using space-age plastics and carbon fiber composites to create stronger, lighter and more durable artificial limbs that replicate natural motion. These high-tech computerized prosthetic devices sport microprocessors and computer chips that let users move bionic limbs more freely, walk as quickly as people with intact limbs, and even play competitive sports. Bionic lower-leg systems are available from some prosthetics providers, although they are still not in general use.
 
 The future: An astounding new robotic suit for people with more severe disabilities was introduced recently. It supports the body from ankles to torso while moving the user’s legs, so that people once confined to a wheelchair can walk again. “It feels great,” one early user told the media. "It's a feeling you forget when you're in a chair for so long. It's very exciting.”
 
A Camera in a Pill
Finding the cause of hidden bleeding in a child’s digestive system is one of the biggest challenges for digestive-disease experts. Too often, invasive, exploratory surgery has been the only option when other tests fail. Now, doctors are turning to a high-tech camera in a capsule to get incredibly clear pictures of a child’s small intestine, an area that’s been difficult to thoroughly examine. Used in adults for more than a decade, wireless PillCams are becoming standard for children as young as four years old.
 
The future: Now, Japanese researchers have developed a propelled model called Mermaid that doctors can control remotely to get a better look.