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A Bendable Implant Taps the Nervous System Without Damaging It


An implant made of silicone and gold wires is as stretchy as human tissue.

Researchers have developed an electronic implant with the same ability to bend and stretch as the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Credit: Stphanie Lacour

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a soft, flexible electronic implant with the same ability to bend and stretch as dura mater, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Gregoire Courtine teamed with electrical engineer Stephanie Lacour to create the implant, dubbed e-dura, which is made from silicone, gold wires, and electrodes embedded with platinum.

Lacour notes if an implant is stiff, it will not stretch as the spinal cord does. "It slides against the tissue and causes a lot of inflammation," she says. "When you bend over to tie your shoelaces, the spinal cord stretches by several percent."

The e-dura implant mimics a property of human tissue called viscoelasticity, which is a consistency between that of rubber and a thick fluid. The researchers report they could overcome spinal injury in rats by wrapping the flexible implant around the spinal cord and sending electrical signals to make the rodent's hind legs move. They also pumped in chemicals via a microchannel in the implant to enhance the process. After two months, they saw few signs of tissue damage compared to conventional electrodes.

Eventually, the researchers say this type of soft electronic implant may help restore a paralyzed person's ability to walk.

From Technology Review
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Abstracts Copyright © 2015 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


 

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