Recovery can be difficult or impossible, which is why Mohammad Reza Abidian — a Penn State assistant professor of bioengineering, materials science and engineering — is focusing his research on special materials called “conducting polymers,” which could one day offer a solution to these injuries.
“Polymers are not usually conductive, but one particular class has the ability to conduct electricity, which is why we’re incredibly interested in them,” explained Abidian. “Because neurons, the primary cells of the brain, spinal column and nerves also conduct electricity, the polymers we’re studying can be used to interface directly with the central and peripheral nervous system.”
One application for these polymers is nerve regeneration. Using the conducting polymers, Abidian has been able to interact with the peripheral nervous system to regenerate nerves in animals. The polymers have also been useful in coating the electrodes used in deep brain stimulation. The electrodes are implanted in the brain to regulate the abnormal impulses caused by brain disorders. This can return functionality to patients with conditions such as paralysis, tremors or Parkinson’s disease.
“The ultimate goal of neural interface research is to help and assist people with neurological diseases and disabilities,” said Abidian. “Hopefully, one day these materials will help improve the quality of treatments for patients, both during the treatment itself and throughout the patient’s recovery.”
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