Researchers use liquid metal to reconnect severed nerves
Nerve damage in the body can lead to the loss of muscle function and muscle atrophy, unless the severed nerve endings get reconnected. Chinese researchers at Beijing’s Tsinghua University have published a new study promising that liquid metal could be a solution for recreating electrical conduit, transmitting signals between severed nerve ends.The study used the body temperature liquid metal gallium-indium-selenium, which has been under study for its combination of helpful physical properties and for being seemingly nontoxic, even in large amounts.
says the metal’s electrical properties could help preserve the function of nerves while they regenerate.
According to Technology Review, the Chinese biomedical engineer team carried out the first experiments to show that the technique is viable. They used sciatic nerves connected to a calf muscle taken from bullfrogs. They applied a pulse to one end of the nerve and measured the signal that reached the calf muscle, which contracted with each pulse. They then cut the sciatic nerve and placed each of the severed ends in a capillary filled either with liquid metal or with Ringer’s solution, a solution of several salts designed to mimic the properties of body fluids. They then re-applied the pulses and measured how they propagated across the gap.
The results are interesting. The pulses that passed through the Ringer’s solution tended to degrade severely. By contrast, the pulses passed easily through the liquid metal. As a bonus, liquid metal can be easily removed from the body when it is no longer needed, since it clearly shows up in x-rays.
A future step of this study might involve using the liquid metal alongside growth factors that encourage nerve regeneration.
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