New Artificial Skin Technology Could Enable Skin to ‘Feel’
Researchers have developed a promising skin replacement material for people with no or limited skin sensitivity.
A team of US scientists and engineers have produced a new type of sensor that could one day enable people who need to have artificial skin to detect pressure, temperature and vibration, as well as other stimuli not picked up by human skin.
The skin forms a protective layer around the body that plays a critical role in sensing stimuli such as pressure, heat, cold and vibration. However, skin damage from injury or disease can lead to a loss of normal sensation.
Burn victims, people with prosthetic limbs, and others who have lost skin sensitivity for different reasons, often injure themselves unintentionally.
Plastic and cosmetic surgery have offered many solutions for skin damage, including the use of artificial skin. Recent research from the University of Connecticut has focused on developing artificial skin technology that has the potential to mimic, or even enhance, the sensing properties of human skin.
As well as detecting pressure, temperature and vibration, the research team wanted to investigate the potential for other properties that human skin does not have. For example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves and abnormal behaviours.
They developed a hazard-avoidance sensing platform that has a skin‐like rubber exterior with excellent conformability and stretchability (up to 300%). The platform’s sensors are made from silicone tubes wrapped in a copper wire and filled with a special fluid made of tiny particles of iron oxide, called nanoparticles.
When the sensor is bumped, or exposed to sound waves or a magnetic field, the nanoparticles move and produce electric signal changes. Even a person moving around while carrying the sensor changes the electrical signal, and the researchers found that they could distinguish between walking, running, jumping and swimming.
The team hopes this technology could help people with no or limited skin sensitivity to ‘feel’ again, and perhaps act as an early warning for workers exposed to dangerously high magnetic fields. Because the rubber exterior is completely sealed and waterproof, it could also be used as a wearable monitor to alert parents if their child fell into water, for example.
Dr Islam Mosa, co-author of the research published in Advanced Materials, said: “The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards.”
The team now plan to test the sensing platform for its response to heat and cold, and develop it into a flat, more skin-like configuration.
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