Artificial muscles may help people
who cannot blink; © Rainer Sturm
In addition, the technique, which uses a combination of electrode leads and silicon polymers, could be used to develop synthetic muscles to control other parts of the body. "This is the first-wave use of artificial muscle in any biological system," said Travis Tollefson, a facial plastic surgeon in the UC Davis Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. "But there are many ideas and concepts where this technology may play a role."
In their study, Tollefson and his colleagues were seeking to develop the protocol and device design for human implantation of electroactive polymer artificial muscle (EPAM) to reproducibly create a long-lasting eyelid blink that will protect the eye and improve facial appearance. EPAM is an emerging technology that has the potential for use in rehabilitating facial movement in patients with paralysis. Electroactive polymers act like human muscles by expanding and contracting, based on variable voltage input levels.
For people with other types of paralysis, the use of artificial muscles could someday mean regaining the ability to smile or control the bladder. Reanimating faces is a natural first step in developing synthetic muscles to control other parts of the body, according to UC Davis otolaryngologist Craig Senders. "Facial muscles require relatively low forces, much less than required to move the fingers or flex an arm," he said.
Blinking is an essential part of maintaining a healthy eye. The lid wipes the surface of the eye clean and spreads tears across the cornea. Without this lubrication, the eye is soon at risk of developing corneal ulcers that eventually can cause blindness.
For patients who have one functioning eyelid, a sensor wire threaded over the normal eyelid could detect the natural blink impulse and fire the artificial muscle at the same time. Among patients lacking control of either eyelid, an electronic pacemaker similar to those used to regulate heartbeats could blink the eye at a steady rate, and be deactivated by a magnetic switch.
The researchers are now refining the technique on cadavers and animal modes. They estimate the technology will be available for patients within the next five years.
COMPAMED.de; Source: University of California - Davis - Health System