Sept. 26, 2012 --
Genetic mutations and advanced technology can give comic book characters super-human abilities. And the same holds true in real life. Sure, humans don't yet have the ability to shape-shift or walk through walls or, as is the case with Wolverine, heal in seconds from just about any injury. But there are a few other super powers that are within practical reach (and no shortage of people claiming to possess super powers). While you wait for "The Wolverine" to hit theaters, with a release date set for summer 2013, why not explore some examples of super human powers and abilities in the real world?
Courtesy of University of Utah Department of
Mindreading Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, has the ability to read minds. While no human has so far demonstrably proven this ability, we have developed technology that could read minds. This mind-reading device was developed by researchers at the University of Utah to help speechless patients form words. Words can be read directly from patients' minds by attaching microelectrode grids to the surface of the brain and learning which signals mean which words, a development that will ultimately help such patients talk again.
Magnetism He's no Magneto, but according to his father, Bogdan, a 7-year-old Serbian boy, has the ability to attract metal objects to him. In fact, his "magnetism" appears to extend to non-metal objects as well. Of course, Bogdan's magnetism hasn't yet been scientifically proven. In fact, it's most likely that he's just a little overweight and oils in his skin make him sticky.
Teleportation Azazel, one of the antagonists in "X-Men: First Class," has the ability to teleport himself and others from one place to another. In reality, we haven't come close to that level of transport ability. However, scientists have successfully teleported light and data over a stretch of 10 miles.
Flight Flying is certainly the ultimate superpower. But until a radioactive pigeon bites you, we'll all just have to rely on technology to get us airborne. Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy has taken solo flight to the extreme with his custom-designed wingsuit. Recently, Rossy even took his jetpack for a spin over the Grand Canyon. Reaching speeds of 190 miles per hour, this jetman could keep up with some of the fastest fictional fliers.
Muscle Mass You wouldn't want to see this dog when she gets angry. Wendy may look like a pitbull but is in fact a whippet with a rare genetic mutation that makes this dog more muscular. Although this dog is gifted with twice the muscle mass as average-sized whippets, Wendy has the same size heart, lungs and other organs.
Courtesy Raytheon Company
Iron Man OK, Tony Stark may be from a different franchise, but his Iron Man suit has become inspiration for military and tech manufacturers testing their own brands of exoskeleton suits. These real-life iron man suits have been designed for applications as mundane as climbing up a flight of stairs and as complex as protecting a soldier on a battlefield.
Echolocation Like the superhero Daredevil, Ben Underwood "sees" with his ears rather than his eyes by employing sonar. By emitting clicking noises with the back of his tongue, Kish is able to determine the distance and a rough outline of the shape of a nearby object. This allows him to navigate without the aid of a cane or seeing eye dog. Other blind people have also developed this ability, so this technique is not unique to Kish.
Soothsaying No one person can predict the future, but a recently developed software program used in Baltimore and Philadelphia is predicting which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. are using or planning on using the program, and the software has already helped reduce the murder rate in some police districts.
After years of research, the first bionic eye has seen the light of day in the United States, giving hope to the blind around the world.
Developed by Second Sight Medical Products, the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System has helped more than 60 people recover partial sight, with some experiencing better results than others.
Consisting of 60 electrodes implanted in the retina and glasses fitted with a special mini camera, Argus II has already won the approval of European regulators. The US Food and Drug Administration is soon expected to follow suit, making this bionic eye the world's first to become widely available.
"It's the first bionic eye to go on the market in the world, the first in Europe and the first one in the U.S.," said Brian Mech, the California-based company's vice president of business development.
Those to benefit from Argus II are people with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disease, affecting about 100,000 people in the U.S., that results in the degeneration of the retinal photoreceptors.
The photoreceptor cells convert light into electrochemical impulses that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve, where they are decoded into images.
"The way the prosthesis works (is) it replaces the function of the photoreceptors," Mech told AFP.
Thirty people aged 28 to 77 took part in the clinical trial for the product, all of whom were completely blind.
Mech said the outcomes varied by participant.
"We had some patients who got just a little bit of benefit and others who could do amazing things like reading newspaper headlines," he said.
In some cases, the subjects could even see in color.
"Mostly they see in black and white, but we have demonstrated more recently we can produce color vision as well," Mech said.
According to Mech, Argus II is already available in several European countries for 73,000 euros ($99,120). A U.S. price has not been set but is likely to be higher, he said.
A patient's eye is held open during ocular surgery.Ed Kashi/Corbis
"Now we are (at) around 60 patients... We have tons of surgeries scheduled, the number is growing almost daily," he said.
Other researchers are also vying to develop bionic eyes of their own, that would offer higher resolution images with more electrodes implanted in the retina.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a team lead by John Wyatt is working on a system that would have up to 400 electrodes.
Daniel Palanker of California's Stanford University is proposing a different approach based on tiny photovoltaic cells instead of electrodes.
"We're thinking about implanting up to 5,000 of these cells at the back of the eye that would theoretically allow for a resolution that is ten times better," George Goetz, a member of Palanker's team, told AFP. This system would also help individuals who lost their sight due to age-related macular degeneration, he added.
These photovoltaic cells convert light into electrical impulses that stimulate the nerve cells in the retina, which then transmit the signals to the brain.
This system has successfully been tested in rats, and the first clinical trial could begin in a year, probably in France. Palanker is linked with French company Pixium Vision based in Paris.
Grace Shen, of the National Eye Institute that has supported both the Argus and Palanker projects, said work on stem cells and optogenetics were also important areas to focus on in developing treatments or the prevention of blindness. Through optogenetics, retina cells can be genetically modified to render them light-sensitive again.
"I think the bionic eye is something that is going to work in some patients and is not going to work with all patients, but it's an exciting time ahead," said Shen.