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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/C52330X/1
Title: Development of neuroelectronic interfaces for repair of damage to the nervous system
Principal Investigator: Fawcett, Professor J
Other Investigators:
McMahon, Professor SB Tarte, Dr EJ Blamire, Professor M
Cameron, Professor RE Huck, Professor W
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Scheme: Standard Research (Pre-FEC)
Starts: 05 September 2005 Ends: 04 January 2010 Value (£): 1,803,111
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Tissue Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
The repair of damage to parts of the body caused by disease or injury using man-made devices is almost routine. The most obvious examples of this are artificial hip replacements for patients suffering from arthritis or broken hip joints, and pacemakers for patients with heart disease. Each of these examples is in itself relatively simple in function, but the response of the body to having foreign objects made of metals and plastics implanted is often very complicated and may prevent the implant from doing the job it was intended to do. In this proposal, a new team of researchers has come together, to solve the problem of using artificial devices (prosthetics) to repair the nervous system. We will focus to begin with on repair of the peripheral nervous system, which carries electrical impulses from the brain to control muscles activity via motor neurons and from cells which respond to pain, touch etc back to the brain via sensory neurons. In order to create prosthetics for this purpose, we will need to develop a set of technologies which will solve a number of important problems and which will have applications in many other areas. We also intend these technologies to form a basis upon which prosthetics for repair of the central nervous system and particularly the spinal cord can be developed.When the nervous system is damaged, nerve fibres (axons) attempt to re-grow and regenerate but how successful this is will be determined by a number of factors. 1) If a nerve is entirely severed, axons cannot grow across a gap without a bridge to cross. 2) In the peripheral nervous system axons often regenerate to the wrong places, giving poor control over the movement of limbs. 3) The environment of the adult central nervous system actually inhibits axon regeneration.In this project, we will develop a set of technologies which will enable permanently implantable prosthetic devices for peripheral nerve repair to be fabricated. The prosthetics will be based upon bridging structures made of plastic (polymer) materials with integrated electrodes which will be used to detect electrical signals generated by regenerated axons which have grown across the bridge. When cells grow on surfaces, the chemical properties of that surface can be used to control their behaviour, so we will attach molecules to the polymer surface which will repel certain types of cell, but attract sensory and motor neurons. By attaching different molecules to different electrodes it will be possible to choose whether a motor or sensory neuron is guided to a particular electrode. Since axons are electrically insulated with a sheath of schwann cells, the electrodes and surface chemistry must be arranged to cope with these too. As we develop the prosthetic devices, we will need to demonstrate that the combination of polymers, electrodes and chemicals can be implanted permanently into the body and continue to function without causing harm. We will also need to investigate how the signals that we detect using the electrodes relate to particular limb movements using implanted prosthetic devices.The technologies described above will have applications beyond this project. The polymer structures developed for this project will be useful in other types of medical implant as will the techniques for patterned chemical modification of surfaces. Arrays of electrodes have other applications in detecting electrical activity of neurons for testing drugs and understanding brain function. Here we will be developing arrays for use with axons insulated by schwann cells which have not previously been available. In addition these techniques will have applications in a number of other areas of biotechnology, particularly in the development of novel biosensors which use cells or biochemicals to detect chemical or biological agents in the environment. So whilst this project is focussed on a particular application, its impact will be much broader.
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Organisation Website: http://www.cam.ac.uk