Prosthetics fused with nerves could make life-like limbs

A prosthetic limb that moves and responds like flesh and blood could be within reach, reported Wired magazine.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have moved one step closer to attaching nerves to prosthetics, giving amputees finer control over their new limbs, by making biocompatible interface scaffolds.

The scaffolds – structures that support tissue growth – are the connection formed between the human tissue and the mechanical parts, and as Popular Science put it the connection “would have to be biocompatible to promote nerve and tissue growth, but mechanically compatible to allow electrodes to connect to external circuits.”

Dr. Shawn Dirk, one of the researchers on the team, told Wired, “We think the interface problem is key to enabling the neuro-prosthetic concept. And solving that is how we’re going to give amputees their bodies back.”

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The team created their own porous biocompatible polymers, mimicking the properties of nerve tissue, allowing nerves to extend through the material, said Wired. When tested on the severed leg nerves of rats, the nerve fibers grew together with the scaffold and fused together.

Robotics engineer Steve Buerger said, “If we can get the right material properties, we could create a healthy, long-lasting interface that will allow an amputee to control a robotic limb using their own nervous system for years, or even decades, without repeat surgeries,” in a press release.

The results in the rodent subjects showed that the material was not rejected by their immune systems, though there was an inflammatory response.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has also reportedly been working on similar research, but results remained elusive.

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