Senders and Tollefson found that the force and stroke required to close the eyelid with the sling were well within the attainable range of the artificial muscle. This capability may allow the creation of a realistic and functional eyelid blink that is symmetric and synchronous with the normal, functioning blink. A similar system also could give children born with facial paralysis a smile.
The three-layered artificial muscle was developed by engineers at SRI International of Palo Alto, Calif., in the 1990s. Inside is a piece of soft acrylic or silicon layered with carbon grease. When a current is applied, electrostatic attractions causes the outer layers to pull together and squash the soft center. This motion expands the artificial muscle. The muscle contracts when the charge is removed and flattens the shape of the sling, blinking the eye. When the charge is reactivated, the muscle relaxes and the soft center reverts back to its original shape.
"The amount of force and movement the artificial muscle generates is very similar to natural muscle," Tollefson said. An implanted battery source similar to those used in cochlear implants would power the artificial muscle.
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.
|Contact: David Ong|
University of California - Davis - Health System