Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Assimilating Prosthetics

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine are developing an interface between a human and an artificial limb.

"The nervous system will certainly rebel if you place hard or sharp electrodes into it to record signals. However, the nervous system can be tricked to accept an interface letting it do what it likes - assimilating new nerve cells into its own network," says scientist Douglas H. Smith, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at Penn.

The signals to and from a robotic appendage are patched in to the patient's nervous system through living nervous system tissue jumper cables grown in the lab.

The connectors are grown by first culturing neurons on electrodes. The gap between the neurons is bridged by nerve fiber axons. The electrodes are slowly moved apart and the axons grow to keep the connection.

The scientists believe that they can connect one end of the axon patch chord to the electrical controls and sensors of a robotic prosthesis while the other end would integrate into the patient's nervous system.

Their recent paper in Neurosurgery describes this technique as a 'conceptual framework' for further research. It still has a long way to go before it is installed in a person.
But rest assured, you will be assimilated.

PENN Medicine News: Conceptualizing a Cyborg


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