Most paralytic patients lose control of their facial features, which may be remedied with artificial polymer muscles, say scientists.
Influenced by the success of bionic limbs, surgeons Craig Senders and Travis Tollefson of the University of California, Davis, have got the idea of using artificial polymer muscles to reanimate the facial features of people suffering from severe paralysis.
Advertisement"The face is an area where natural-appearing active prosthetics would be particularly welcome," New Scientist magazine quoted them as writing in a recent patent application.
They said that the approach, already tested successfully on cadavers, could provide a potential new solution.
In the patent document, the most detailed example describes how these artificial muscles could help people regain control over partially or fully paralysed eyelids, after suffering spinal injuries or nervous disorders like Bell's palsy.
Those who lose control of their eyelids will struggle with social interaction and can have low self-esteem.
But it can also have serious health implications as well-without working eyelids, eyes can become ulcerated and blindness can eventually occur.
Thus, the researchers have suggested using an arrangement that involves a polymer muscle anchored to the skull, labelled "41", which pulls on cords that connect to the upper and lower eyelids of both eyes.
When a patient tries to close their eyes, the effort triggers electrical activity in the muscles that would normally close the eyelids.
The polymer muscle detects this activity and contracts, pulling on its cords to fully close the eyelids.
The methods could also be used to control the polymer muscle for many other circumstances- if a person has lost control of only one eye (after a stroke, for example) the system could monitor the activity of the healthy eye and synchronise the actions of the paralysed one to match.
Also, the patent paves the way for other sensors to close the eyes in bright light, or if an object moves close to the eye.
Timing systems could also be used to simulate natural blinking patterns.
The researchers are contemplating the use of a similar approach could be used to reanimate other facial features, create an artificial diaphragm to assist breathing, or in replacements fingers and hands.
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