Regenerative Medicine Work to Develop Devices for Improving Lives of Amputees

Untitled2008McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Christopher T. Bettinger, PhD, and Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, PhD, and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member from the University of Pittsburgh, Kacey Marra, PhD, received $1.6 million for the next 4 years from the U.S. Army to improve the use of prosthetic devices.

“This is very exciting research as we work to create devices that can translate neural activity of a patient into instructions to move robotic limbs or other prosthetic devices,” said Dr. Bettinger, an assistant professor in CMU’s departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.

One of the researchers’ key challenges is designing brain-machine interfaces for long-term reliability because the signal-to-noise ratio in these materials typically decays as the body reacts to the implant and tries to ward off foreign material.

The project, led by Dr. Bettinger and Dr. Matyjaszewski, the J.C. Warner Professor of Natural Sciences at CMU’s Mellon College of Science, along with Dr. Marra, a collaborator at the University of Pittsburgh, aims to engineer autologous tissues using mechanically compliant electrically conducting polymeric materials.

“The tissue constructs are designed to make stable long-term connections between nerves in the peripheral nervous system by mimicking the native tissue areas,” Dr. Bettinger said.

“New techniques in polymer chemistry have allowed us to make smarter, more durable materials. We have been able to create materials with great potential in a variety of applications. It’s exciting to see if we can make something that will help those who wear prostheses,” Dr. Matyjaszewski said.

The researchers also noted that the project has broad impact on wounded warriors by providing amputees with better control of prosthetic limbs. American soldiers and Marines walking combat patrols in Afghanistan have suffered a surge of gruesome injuries, losing one or both legs. And military statistics report more amputee injuries are possible as attacks by improvised explosive devices skyrocketed from 5 in April 2009 to more than 300 in April 2012.

“It is imperative that we develop pioneering tools and devices to better help our wounded warriors recover from such traumatic injuries,” Dr. Bettinger said.

Dr. Marra is an associate professor, plastic surgery, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, and deputy director, Adipose Stem Cell Center.

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Carnegie Mellon University Press Release

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