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Nanowires to connect with the spinal cord nerves

Optogenetics, the technology and science looking at interaction with neurones and nerves, is a new area but it has already achieved in a short time amazing results in looking at brain neuronal circuits expanding our understanding of its structure and functions. Microscopic probes have been created to minimise damage to the brain. Each probe should be able to carry light (an optical fibre of sort) and electrical signals, both harvesting the ones generated by neurones and the ones used to stimulate them.
Connecting probes with nerves in the spinal corde is, technically speaking, more challenging since these move as the person moves. Hence the probe needs to be pliable and soft to avoid damaging the nerves as they move.
This is what has been addressed by a team of researchers based at MIT.
They have created a flexible and stretchable probe using nanowires and an elastomer. The latter is used to carry light the former are wrapped around it and carry electrical signals.
The probe is so flexible that can be used for sutures and it can stretch up to 30% of its length without losing its functionality.
They have tested their properties and their resistance to continuous stress by implanting them in the spinal cord of mice. Equally important they have proved that their implantation does not damage the nerves in the spinal cord even in a prolonged use.
The hope is that this technology can boost progress in restoring nerve pathways helping people with traumatic paralyses.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.