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Sandia seeks better neural control of prosthetics for amputees

ss. The Congressional Research Service reports more than 1,600 amputations involving U.S. troops between 2001 and 2010, more than 1,400 of those associated with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most were major limb amputations.

Before joining Sandia, Buerger worked with a research group at MIT developing biomedical robots, including prosthetics. Sandia's robotics group was developing prosthetics before his arrival as part of U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored humanitarian programs to reduce proliferation risks.

Robotics approached the problem from a technical point of view, looking at improving implantable and wearable neural interface electronics. However, Buerger said that didn't address the central issue of interfacing with nerves, so researchers turned to Dirk's team.

"This goes after the crux of the problem," he said.

The challenges are numerous. Interfaces must be structured so nerve fibers can grow through. They must be mechanically compatible so they don't harm the nervous system or surrounding tissues, and biocompatible to integrate with tissue and promote nerve fiber growth. They also must incorporate conductivity to allow electrode sites to connect with external circuitry, and electrical properties must be tuned to transmit neural signals.

Dirk presented a paper on potential neural interface materials at the winter meeting of the Materials Research Society, describing Sandia's work in collaboration with the University of New Mexico and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Co-authors are Buerger, UNM assistant professor Elizabeth Hedberg-Dirk, UNM graduate student and Sandia contractor Kirsten Cicotte, and MD Anderson's Patrick Lin and Gregory Reece.

The researchers began with a technique first patented in 1902 called electrospinning, which produces nonwoven fiber mats by applying a high-voltage field between the tip of a syringe filled with a polymer solution and a collection mat. Tip diameter and solution viscosity control

Contact: Sue Holmes
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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