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 An Optimistic Biohybrid Approach Discovered for Restoring Function in Paralyzed Limbs 

Written by: Vaishnavi Peyyety, Current Events Staff Writer

Washington PA offers surgical care through advanced orthopedics. (Courtesy: Regan Carlson))
MAR. 29 - Restoring function in paralyzed limbs is a difficult task that has been extensively researched over the years. A major issue is the potential for scar tissue to form around the implanted device which prevents optimal functioning. Also, in order to be associated with muscle movements, other neural technologies require extensive interpretations of cortical activity.  
However, a recent revelation at the University of Cambridge has proven to be optimistic. Researchers used a biohybrid device with electronics and human stem cells to connect the brain to paralyzed limbs. In rats, this device was introduced into the paralyzed forearm and restored movement if connected to the nerves in the rat’s forearm or a prosthetic limb. Still, this device must be tested extensively before it is ready for use in humans. Nevertheless, the device can be easily integrated, and implantation requires only a keyhole surgery. 
This electronic device is extremely thin and can be attached to the end of a nerve like a single nerve fiber or axon. The device interacts with this axon that is integral in motor control.  
"An axon itself has a tiny voltage," said Dr. Damiano Barone from Cambridge's Department of Clinical Neurosciences. "But once it connects with a muscle cell, which has a much higher voltage, the signal from the muscle cell is easier to extract. That's where you can increase the sensitivity of the implant." 

"An axon itself has a tiny voltage," from Cambridge's Department of Clinical Neurosciences. "But once it connects with a muscle cell, which has a much higher voltage, the signal from the muscle cell is easier to extract. That's where you can increase the sensitivity of the implant."  - Dr. Damiano Barone
The stem cells reprogram to form muscle cells between the device and living tissue. This prevents scar tissue formation. Stem cells also afford extensive control of the body and biohybrid devices implanted.  And in this experiment, the stem cells survived for 28 days, a medical record. 
"We can tell them how to behave and check on them throughout the experiment,” said Barone. “By putting cells in between the electronics and the living body, the body doesn't see the electrodes, it just sees the cells, so scar tissue isn't generated."  
This promising development was made possible by combining the developments in cell therapies and bioelectronics, speaking to the power of scientific collaboration.  
"By combining living human cells with bioelectronic materials, we've created a system that can communicate with the brain in a more natural and intuitive way, opening up new possibilities for prosthetics, brain-machine interfaces, and even enhancing cognitive abilities," stated Amy Rochford, a co-author from the Department of Engineering. 
"By combining living human cells with bioelectronic materials, we've created a system that can communicate with the brain in a more natural and intuitive way, opening up new possibilities for prosthetics, brain-machine interfaces, and even enhancing cognitive abilities," - Amy Rochford, a co-author from the Department of Engineering. 

The research team includes Dr. Damiano Barone, Amy Rochford, Dr. Alejandro Carnicer-Lombarte, and Professor George Malliaras, among other highly skilled professionals. The team continues to optimize their device and has filed a patent application. The device uses opti-oxTM, a reprogramming technology owned by a synthetic biology company bit. bo. 

A part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) supported this research which has the potential to transform many lives. Over 2.1 million people with limb loss exist in just the United States alone, the main causes being a vascular disease, trauma, and cancer according to the Amputee Coalition. Each year around 185,000 people experience an amputation. Clearly, this biohybrid technology has the potential to transform many lives.  
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