Prosthetics Fused with Human Nerves

Imagine an artificial leg that can feel hot and cold, wet and dry, and even a caress! Scientists have tried all kinds of ways to make prosthetic limbs that can work with human nerves to make the limb not only more agile, but also to provide feedback sensations to the user. And all kinds of ways have failed to produce the desired results. Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and the MD Anderson Cancer Center are working on a synthetic polymer to be used as a scaffold that severed nerve tissue can grow onto. Dr. Shawn Dirk explains how this substance is different from anything tried before.
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)

Newest 2
Newest 2 Comments

I don't know why they force people to wait so long to test out this new biotech. I am sure there are alot of people that would line up and sign a waiver for a chance to get a sense of touch out of their prosthetic. What do they have to lose?

Same logic when it comes to not using untested cancer treatments or pain meds on terminal patients. They have stage 4 cancer..... it is not like you are going to do them much harm at this point. I am pretty sure someone facing certain death would sign a waiver for you to test some new treatment on them. Even if it doesn't help them the data you get from it could greatly speed up cancer treatment technology.

Or new nerve regeneration technology for people with spine injuries. If I am paralysis from the neck down you can pump me full of anything that has even a 1 in 1000 chance of restoring my ability to function.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
You've got a point about the terminal patients. But with amputees, there are risks. In the linked article, the first animal tests were to see if this material caused inflammation or was prone to organ rejection, since previous ideas had those problems. A human amputee risks nerve damage and development of scar tissue, which would make further innovations of this sort impossible. And if he were to develop a fatal infection...

There's a line somewhere after which human volunteers will be welcome, but an amputee is way different from a terminal cancer patient.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"Prosthetics Fused with Human Nerves"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More