Diagram of Tel Aviv University's neural sensor (Tel Aviv University) (Tel Aviv University)
Tel Aviv U.

Tel Aviv University’s neural-prosthetic breakthrough is literally touchy-feely.

By United With Israel Staff

In a medical breakthrough, researchers at Tel Aviv University have managed to restore the sense of touch to limbs that suffered severe nerve damage.

A tiny sensor implanted in the limb, such as a finger, was connected to a healthy nerve.

The device consists of two tiny plates less than half a centimeter by half a centimeter in size. When these plates come into contact with each other, they release an electric charge that is transmitted to the undamaged nerve. When the injured finger touches something, the touch releases tension corresponding to the pressure applied to the device – weak tension for a weak touch and strong tension for a strong touch – just like in a normal sense of touch.

Advances in neuro-prostheses — devices that restore functions lost to nerve damage — have been limited in recent years. Devices are complex to produce, and require an outside power source, such as a battery. But the TAU team overcame the daunting problem by creating a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) that charges itself whenever it senses friction.

The researchers explain that the sensor can be implanted anywhere in the body where tactile sensation needs to be restored, and that it actually bypasses the damaged sensory organs. Moreover, the device is made from biocompatible material that is safe for use in the human body and simple to implant. The sensor does not require maintenance, nor is it externally visible.

According to TAU’s Dr. Ben Maoz, after testing the new sensor in the lab the researchers implanted it in the feet of the animal models. The animals walked normally, without having experienced any damage to their motor nerves, and the tests showed that the sensor allowed them to respond to sensory stimuli.

“We tested our device on animal models, and the results were very encouraging,” Dr. Maoz said. “Next, we want to test the implant on larger models, and at a later stage implant our sensors in the fingers of people who have lost the ability to sense touch. Restoring this ability can significantly improve people’s functioning and quality of life, and more importantly, protect them from danger. People lacking tactile sensation cannot feel if their finger is being crushed, burned or frozen.”

The study was published in the prestigious journal ACS Nano.

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