New material derived from graphene improves performance of neuroprosthetics

New material derived from graphene improves performance of neuroprosthetics

The image on the left shows a histological section of the nerve with a longitudinal electrode inserted. The device (arrow) can be seen in close contact with the nerve axons (marked in green). On the right, an image of the sciatic nerve with an EGNITE electrode inserted transversely to allow stimulation and recording of nerve impulses. Credit: INc-UAB

After an amputation or a serious nerve injury, patients lose more or less the ability to move and feel a lost limb, which limits their autonomy in activities of daily living. Currently, the only strategy that allows the recovery of lost functions consists of neuroprosthetics: electrodes that can stimulate nerves to evoke certain sensations and record motor signals that, once detached, can be sent to a bionic prosthesis.

In the design of neuroprosthetics, it is important that the electrodes are small enough to be selective and interact electrically with only a smaller number of axons in the nerve. Therefore, although they are usually made of metals such as gold, platinum or iridium oxide, it is necessary to find other materials with improved conductivity to allow for the creation of smaller electrode contacts.

This is where graphene and its derivatives come into play; their excellent electrical properties enable the development of new generation microelectrodes.

The research coordinated by the UAB Institut de Neurociències (INc-UAB) examined the capacity of EGNITE, a new material derived from graphene, to stimulate and record the peripheral nerve. It also confirmed its biocompatibility, which is important for preserving the function of the interface over time.

The findings are as follows: published in the magazine Advanced Science.

The research was carried out in the Neuroplasticity and Regeneration group of the INc-UAB, led by Professor Xavier Navarro of the UAB Department of Cell Biology, Physiology and Immunology, in collaboration with Jose Garrido’s research group at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), which was responsible for developing EGNITE and its neural interfaces.

These electrodes, placed in the rat sciatic nerve, were shown to be able to produce selective muscle activation for up to 60 days. “The reduction in the electrical current required to produce this muscle activation is remarkable compared to other larger metal microelectrodes,” explains Bruno Rodríguez-Meana, postdoctoral researcher at INc-UAB and first author of the paper.

Furthermore, electrodes with EGNITE were shown to be biocompatible, as none of the functional tests showed significant changes produced by the implanted interfaces and no severe inflammation was observed.

“The next steps will consist of optimizing the EGNITE-based technology and applying it in preclinical studies for vagus nerve or spinal cord stimulation systems. In parallel, progress is being made towards clinical translation of bioelectronic medicine approaches,” explains Professor Navarro.

All these results together show that the material obtained from graphene has the potential to be part of neuroprosthetics that allow patients to regain their lost functions, thus improving their capacity and quality of life.

More information:
Bruno Rodríguez‐Meana et al., Engineered Graphene Material Improves Performance of Intraneural Peripheral Nerve Electrodes, Advanced Science (2024). DOI: 10.1002/advs.202308689

Provided by the Autonomous University of Barcelona

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