Of course, researchers have already made plenty of efforts to directly integrate nerves and prosthetics. But, according to Dirk, they typically “didn’t use technology that was compatible with nerve fibers,” which are tightly bundled and flexible. “Nerves need to grow and move around; they’re not going to integrate well with a stiff interface.”
Yes, the material comprising the scaffold had to be flexible and fluid, but it also needed to be extremely conductive. Nerve signals are highly localized, and also very, very subtle. An effective neural-prosthetic interface would need to transmit thousands of different signals per second to mimic the behavior of a real limb and its relationship to the brain and body.
To create that ideal interface, Dirk and his colleagues developed their own biocompatible polymers, meant to mimic the properties of nerve tissue. The material is also porous, so that nerves can extend through it, and lined with electrodes, to vastly enhance conductivity.
The new polymer has tested well in rats, but its use in humans is still years away. Link
(Image credit: Flickr user Chris Corwin)