Advances In Synthetic Polymer Technology

Researchers at Stanford University have designed the first synthetic skin, which has both the  ability to heal itself after damage and sensitivity to subtle pressure and flexion. The addition of nickel nanoparticles increased the electrical conductivity and mechanical strength of the plastic polymer, which already had the self-healing ability. Zintro experts discuss whether the plastic skin is ready for commercial use, especially in prosthetics.

Gareth Hughes, an expert in biomedical engineering and medical technologies, indicates that the sense of touch is lacking in today’s prosthetics. “There are many challenges to regaining human sensory feedback with prosthetics from having highly sensitive embedded sensors to relaying sensor signals back to the amputee for neural feedback,” he explains. “By incorporating metal nanoparticles within a flexible polymer, the researchers could eventually create skin-like, sensor arrays that will enable much-needed tactile feedback for amputees, especially those with upper extremity prosthetics.”

As electrical engineer and business strategist, Rogelio F. Nochebuena points out, compared to the polymer designed, other materials require higher temperature during self-repair and lose part of their mechanical characteristics, as they reconnect. “Our skin has remarkable characteristics among them its ability to provide information to the brain on items related with the temperature around us as well as being able to sense forces experienced by diverse parts of our body that can be translated as pressure,” he notes. “The researchers have conducted extensive tests including one in which they cut the material with a scalpel and then they bring the parts together in a gentle fashion. In a very short period, the material has regained most of its electrical and mechanical characteristics and after about half an hour the sample has regained totally its mechanical strength and electrical conductivity. Even our body is unable to repair so fast.” Nochebuena believes that the polymer could be an ideal material for prosthetics even though some work has to be done before it gets FDA approval. “The Nickel does not allow that hydrogen bond to operate as efficiently and therefore the self healing process has been affected somehow. There is an optimum size of silver nanoparticles to assist the healing process in wounds,” he adds.

By Idil Kan

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