The Georgia Tech regenerative electrode - A peripheral nerve interface for enabling robotic limb control using thought
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Amputation is a life-changing event that results in a drastic reduction in quality of life including extreme loss of function and severe mental, emotional and physical pain. In order to mitigate these negative outcomes, there is great interest in the design of ‘advanced/robotic’ prosthetics that cosmetically and functionally mimic the lost limb. While the robotics side of advanced prosthetics has seen many advances recently, they still provide only a fraction of the natural limbs’ functionality. At the heart of the issue is the interface between the robotic limb and the individual that needs significant development. Amputees retain significant function in their nerves post-amputation, which offers a unique opportunity to interface with the peripheral nerve. Here we evaluate a relatively new approach to peripheral nerve interfacing by using microchannels, which hold the intrinsic ability to record larger neural signals from nerves than previously developed peripheral nerve interfaces. We first demonstrate that microchannel scaffolds are well suited for chronic integration with amputated nerves and promote highly organized nerve regeneration. We then demonstrate the ability to record neural signals, specifically action potentials, using microchannels permanently integrated with electrodes after chronic implantation in a terminal study. Together these studies suggest that microchannels are well suited for chronic implantation and stable peripheral nerve interfacing. As a next step toward clinical translation, we developed fully-integrated high electrode count microchannel interfacing technology capable of functioning while implanted in awake and freely moving animal models as needed for pre-clinical evaluation. Importantly, fabrication techniques were developed that apply to a broad range of flexible devices/sensors benefiting from flexible interconnects, surface mount device (SMD) integration, and/or operation in aqueous environments. Examples include diabetic glucose sensors, flexible skin based health monitors, and the burgeoning flexible wearable technology industry. Finally, we successfully utilized the fully integrated microchannel interfaces to record action potentials in the challenging awake and freely moving animal model validating the microchannel approach for peripheral nerve interfacing. In the end, the findings of these studies help direct and give significant credence to future technology development enabling eventual clinical application of microchannels for peripheral nerve interfacing.