Bionics, robotics and lasers: the latest in prosthetics

仿生学、机器人学和lasers : 新在prosthetics

Olga Deshchenko, DOTmed News Reporter | April 15, 2011
From the April 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


The researchers then moved on to work on a rat model and laser development. Initially, they used the FreeElectron Laser, funded by the Department of Defense at Vanderbilt for medical applications. Access to the state-of-the-art device enabled researchers to identify the necessary parameters but they needed something smaller. “That laser was basically a whole building. It’s useful for research purposes but not so practical for widespread use,” says Jansen.

The research team enlisted the Washington-based Aculight Corporation to design a customized laser, which shares its technology concepts with missile defense systems.(Aculight has since been acquired by Lockheed Martin.) The current version of company’s nerve stimulation laser is just a little larger than a laptop, but it will have to shrink significantly to be considered as an implant for prosthetics — prototypes as small as an iPod Nano are already in development.

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So far, researchers have used one fiber and interfaced it with a nerve to make it twitch. “The first milestone that we’re close to accomplishing is to have a system where we have four different fibers coupled to the same laser but when turning on different fibers, we can activate different muscles groups asynchronously,” Jansen says.

The researchers are also working on aligning the fiber optic next to the nerve, rather than perpendicular to it. This comes with the challenge of figuring out how to get the light to fire sideways from the fiber to go into the nerve, as opposed to firing forward. “That’s the other part we’ve been working on – can we make tiny fiber optics that fire the light out sideways? We’ve demonstrated that concept with one channel so far,” says Jansen.

By the end of the two-year project, the stimulation team (which also includes researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio), hopes to have a multi-channel, side-firing system with side-firing fibers implanted in a cuff that can be wrapped around a nerve and placed into an animal to show its ability to activate individual groups of muscles. The sensory group hopes to build a multi-channel system that can sense the electrical signals in or around the nerves in a significant number of nerve cells simultaneously.

The concept may be easy to demonstrate in a Petri dish but it becomes harder to replicate its efficacy beyond that. “You put this in an animal and ultimately a human and there are all these confounding factors that you now have to start worrying about,” says Jansen.

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