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The aim of the project is to design and build a prototype of an active implant that works directly at the spinal cord level, focusing on the restoration of the transmission of signals in the injured spinal cord. The device will combine high-resolution sensing of magnetic fields produced by the neuron’s activity plus functional stimulation electrodes with enhanced adhesion. The final prototype will act as a bi-directional bypass working at room temperature, something not possible using current technology. The research on magnetoresistive materials will enable the detection of ultra-small magnetic fields. This, when combined with the investigation on biocompatibility of the materials, will produce the necessary knowledge to make a technological leap.
Although in its early stages, the project has already delivered a first prototype of an artificial neuron that allows the generation of magnetic fields similar to those generated by neural tissue. The first generation of the magnetic sensors and nanostructured electrodes have been designed and are ready to be implanted in in-vitro neuronal cultures. Next the biocompatibility tests will be followed by the optimization of the design, then implantation in a pair of spinal explants, enabling the final model of the bypass prototype.
HybridHeart will provide a cure for heart failure, which affects ~23 million people worldwide. Hybrid Heart will consist of a soft robotics shell with actuators (‘artificial muscles’) and sensors, enabling completely natural motion. The inner lining and structures will be made by in situ tissue engineering (TE), ensuring biocompatibility of blood-contacting surfaces.
To achieve the ambitious goal the participants will, in parallel, develop the components of the HybridHeart: 1) a soft elastomeric robotics shell containing actuators and sensors, 2) scaffolds for in situ TE of inner lining, valves and vessels and 3) a wireless energy transfer system. These components together will form the full HybridHeart, which will be soft, adaptable, wireless and fully bio- and hemocompatible. Both functionality as well as biocompatibility of the HybridHeart will be shown in a Proof-of-Principle study in the chronic sheep model at the end of the project.
The technology underlying the HybridHeart is applicable to a range of soft robotics-based artificial organs, including the bowel, lung, or muscle structures (limbs). Replacing an entire organ with bioinspired robotic elements, TE biocompatible surfaces, artificial sensors, and an external power source allows for an off-the-shelf therapy for patients with organ failure.
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