Researchers have developed a new type of neural implant that could restore limb function to amputees and others who have lost the use of their arms or legs.
In a study carried out in rats, researchers from the University of Cambridge used the device to improve the connection between the brain and paralyzed limbs. The device combines flexible electronics and human stem cells—the body’s “reprogrammable” master cells—to better integrate with the nerve and drive limb function.
Previous attempts at using neural implants to restore limb function have mostly failed, as scar tissue tends to form around the electrodes over time, impeding the connection between the device and the nerve. By sandwiching a layer of muscle cells reprogrammed from stem cells between the electrodes and the living tissue, the researchers found that the device integrated with the host’s body and the formation of scar tissue was prevented. The cells survived on the electrode for the duration of the 28-day experiment, the first time this has been monitored over such a long period.