Neuroprosthetics as a discipline is driven by one thing, which is to help develop bionic limbs that feel and function exactly like how the missing body part would have acted. Off cause with the actual goal of improving the quality of life for amputees, and you know what, more hope is here.
As in, researchers have managed to create a miniaturized electronic platform that helps to effectively stimulate and record signals across peripheral nerve fibers on a chip. With this capability, the scientists are able to modulate and record nerve activity at flash speed, what they call “with high signal to noise ratio.” Something they say creates an amazing opportunity to improve neuroprosthetic designs using chips.
The Untapped Power in Neuroprosthetics
These implants have potential do the unexpected. Now, using multiple contact electrodes from this nerve-on-a-chip platform, they can fully substitute certain nerve functionalities, thereby restoring amputees’ sense of feel, touch, as well as even help the paralyzed get their mobility back.
This is done by stimulating the spinal cord while at the same time muzzling nerve activity in people who are overwhelmed by chronic pain. Being able to stimulate the right nerve, at the right point and at the right time is key to achieving effective treatments. Another plus with this is that previous technologies were not able to precisely record neural activity due to limitations, but the new invention overcomes that and other hurdles.
Catching Up with the Human Brain
“Our brain is super sophisticated in terms of information hardware and signaling. And the reason we are still behind is that we only implant a dozen number of electrodes in patients, to integrate with the brain which literary sends and receives millions and millions of nerve impulses. In other words, we needed a more complex interface that can catch up with the complex exchange of information patterns in a patient’s nervous system, like the chip we now have,” said Sandra Gribi, one of the researchers and student at Bertarelli Foundation.
The new platform is made from embedded microchannels, electrodes and explanted nerve fibers, which basically imitates the in vivo tissues, in terms of maturity, architecture and function. Now, after testing the platform on explanted nerve fibers, on the specimen which in this case was rat’s spinal cords, interestingly they managed to stimulate and inhibit neural activity.
What this Means to the Future of Prosthetics
The work, which now appears in Nature Communications is expected to help make smarter bionic limbs that fully coordinate with the brain’s functions.
Stimulating neural activity is obviously what anybody would expect from such an invention, but when it comes to inhibiting signals and activity, that’s another story. It means people who, their problem is abnormal nerve pains, who have to depend on strong painkillers to move around would also benefit as this silences the pain impulses.
In overview, the technology impacts both the sensory and motor nerve fibers, what the scientists say would allow the development of special implants that can help regenerate peripheral nerves.
As it is, the researchers are able to measure the neural data that runs in the new algorithm, the direction impulses come from and so on, what they say would allow them to engineer better natural control onto artificial limbs.