Women with beriberi on hand or finger, Disease causing inflammation of the nerves, Close up

Sensor restores sense of touch in damaged nerves

Image credit: Piyapong Thongcharoen/Dreamstime

Israeli engineers have developed a sensor that could help people who have lost their sense of touch in the nerves of a limb following amputation or injury.

The tiny sensor is implanted in the nerve of the injured limb - for example, in a finger - and is connected directly to a healthy nerve. Each time the limb touches an object, the sensor is activated and conducts an electric current to the functioning nerve, which recreates the feeling of touch.

According to the researchers at Tel Aviv University, the sensor is a tested and safe technology that is suited to the human body and could be implanted anywhere inside of it once clinical trials are complete.

The researchers said that this unique project began with a meeting between colleagues Dr Ben Maoz of the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, and surgeon Dr Amir Arami from the Sackler School of Medicine and the Microsurgery Unit in the Department of Hand Surgery at Sheba Medical Center.

“Dr Arami shared with me the difficulty he experiences in treating people who have lost tactile sensation in one organ or another because of injury,” said Dr Maoz. “It should be understood that this loss of sensation can result from a very wide range of injuries, from minor wounds – like someone chopping a salad and accidentally cutting himself with the knife – to very serious injuries.

“Even if the wound can be healed and the injured nerve can be sutured, most times the sense of touch remains damaged. We tackled this challenge together and found a solution that will restore tactile sensation to those who have lost it.”

Illustration of tech that restores touch in damaged nerves

Image credit: Tel Aviv University

In recent years, the field of neural prostheses has made promising developments to improve the lives of those who have lost sensation in their limbs by implanting sensors in place of the damaged nerves. But the existing technology has several significant drawbacks, such as complex manufacturing and use, as well as the need for an external power source, such as a battery.

The researchers used a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) to engineer and test – on animal models – a tiny sensor that restores tactile sensation via an electric current that comes directly from a healthy nerve and doesn’t require a complex implantation process or charging; they said.

The researchers developed a sensor that can be implanted on a damaged nerve under the tip of the finger; the sensor connects to another nerve that functions properly and restores some of the tactile sensation to the finger.

According to the researchers, this unique development does not require an external power source such as electricity or batteries. They also explained that the sensor actually works on frictional force: whenever the device senses friction, it charges itself.

The team said that the device can be implanted anywhere in the body where tactile sensation needs to be restored and that it actually bypasses the damaged sensory organs. The device is also made from biocompatible materials that are safe for the human body; it does not require maintenance; the implantation is simple, and the device itself is not externally visible.

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