Editorial Feature

Research and Development of Bionic Organs

Influential steps in the development of robotic technology promise a bright and optimistic future, a future with innovative yet terrifying creations like Rex.

Rex is a humanoid robot and probably the closest that we can come to a bionic man. He is the sum total of the research done by medical engineers in the creation of functional artificial human organs.

The heart of Rex beats with a battery and the dialysis unit of Rex works similar to a real kidney. Rex also has a mock spleen that can purify infections from his blood.

Rex is also known as the million dollar man and includes prosthetic hips, face, knees, hands and feet, all of which are available commercially. Cochlea, heart and an artificial retina are other off-the-shelf items currently in the process of being explored for their application in humans.

AdvancedBionics have designed a cochlear implant that bypasses the damaged part of the ear and works to help restore hearing:

How A Cochlear Implant Works by Advanced Bionics

Cochlear implant engineered by AdvancedBionics. Run time - 2:10 minutes.

Shadow Robotic Company manufacture state-of-the-art anthropomorphic hands and related components, engineered Rex and though Rex has some key organs missing like the stomach, 60 – 70% of a human body has been reconstructed effectively.

The company has intended Rex to be a showcase of prosthetic parts not a full recreation of a human.


Bioartificial organ research is based on the convergence of knowledge from materials science to molecular and cell biology to experimental surgery.

The challenges involved in clinical implementation of this novel concept are:

  • Obtaining at a large scale, isolated post-mitotic cells or specific tissue structures from animal sources
  • Demonstrating efficacy and safety of spontaneously occurring, bioactive tumor cell lines
  • Verifying bio-acceptance and long-term stability of polymer implants
  • Industrializing the fabrication process to meet shelf-life, quality control and commercial distribution requirements.

A recent report by Markets and Markets titled “Artificial Organs Market - (Vision Bionics/Bionic Eye, Brain Bionics, Heart Bionics/Artificial Heart, Orthopedic Bionics and Ear Bionics) – Trends and Global Forecasts to 2017” evaluates the key restraints, market drivers and opportunities in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and the Rest of the World.

The report is an overview of the global medical bionic implants market over the period 2012 to 2017. Bionics involves studying biological systems to develop artificial organs that can imitate their functions.

Bionic implants are electronic or mechanical systems that function similar to living organisms. The growth rate of bionic implants is expected to be at a CAGR of 7.1% from 2012 to 2017 to reach $17.82 billion by 2017.

The global medical bionic implant (artificial organs) market is classified into five categories based on the technology used, type of products and type of fixation. It includes the ear bionics, vision bionics, heart bionics and neural/brain bionics markets.

Medical bionics under development includes a wearable bio-lung, artificial kidney and artificial pancreas.

The technology segment includes mechanical and electronic bionics while medical bionic implants are categorized as implantable or externally worn based on the type of fixation.

In case a lizard loses its tail, a new caudal appendage begins growing to replace the missing part. However, if a human loses a kidney or severs a peripheral nerve, the organ is forever lost.

Just imagine a scenario wherein a person with Parkinson’s disease can be relieved by implanting neural tissue in his brain, which is encased in a selectively permeable polymer envelope.

It may even be possible to reverse or stop juvenile diabetes by a membrane-protected xenograft of insulin-producing tissue.

Bionic organic science aims to achieve two major technological breakthroughs: firstly the availability of biocompatible, ultra-thin, selectively permeable membranes that protect a transplant from immune rejection and at the same time enable solute exchange between the graft and its environment.

Secondly, it aims at synthesizing innovative materials, some bioresorbable, some biostable that can serve as an anchor or scaffolding for tissue regrowth in the chemically and geometrically controlled environment of an implant.

Fraser et al (2012). conducted research on the prospective trial of a ventricular assist device in in Texas Children’s Hospital.

The researchers conducted a single-group, prospective trial of a ventricular assist device that is specifically designed for children as a bridge to heart transplantation.

Patients aged below 16 years were divided into two groups of 24 patients each. Survival in the two groups receiving mechanical support was compared with historical data of those undergoing extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

The trials proved that survival rates were more with the ventricular assist device when compared to ECMO.

Breton M et al (2012) conducted a study on a completely integrated artificial pancreas in type 1 diabetes sufferers.

It is possible to optimize glycemic control in diabetes by incorporating integrated closed loop control (CLC) involving the combination of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) with an insulin pump also known as artificial pancreas.

A basic modular concept for CLC demonstrated by clinical studies involving 27 adults and 11 adolescents at the Universities of Virginia, Padova, and Montpellier is presented.

Two modular CLC constructs were tested. In conclusion, this method has helped introduce a range of concepts including sequential deployment testing to suit individual patient needs.

The following video presented by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Ltd on one patient's personal experience with the use of the artificial pancrease:

Tom Brobson: My AP Trial Experience

Patient artificial pancrease trial experience by Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Ltd. Run time - 3:35 minutes.

Secondary lymphoid organs such as lymph nodes and spleen are very important for initiating an immune response. They display distinct T cell and B cell compartments associated with fibroblastic reticular cells and specific stromal follicular dendritic cells.

Most of the structural aspects of the spleen and lymph node are common - the entry of antigen-presenting cells, lymphocytes and antigen into lymphoid tissues is monitored distinctly reflecting specific functions of each organ in filtering blood or lymph.

Synthesizing lymphoid tissue is an evolving field aiming at providing therapeutic application for treating cancer, infection and age-related involution of secondary lymphoid tissues.

In order to develop artificial lymphoid tissue, it is important to understand organogenesis of lymphoid organs that has delineated molecular and cellular elements needed for recruiting and organizing lymphocytes into lymphoid structures.


The artificial organ sector has witnessed technological advancements over the past 20 years.

It is anticipated that this trend will continue for overcoming present challenges and fulfilling unmet market needs.

The growth of this market is propelled due to the increase in the number of people awaiting organ transplants, increasing organ failure due to aging and age-related disorders and increasing accidents and injuries resulting in amputations.

Certain pivotal factors restricting growth are the increased cost of devices and uncertain reimbursement scenarios in various regions, high development cost and limited surgical expertise.


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