Stanford University's Artificial Skin: Sensational Advance For Prosthetics

There have been more than a few medical  advancements over the course of the last few years in the creation of artificial skin to improve the quality of prosthetics. One concerned a 'smart skin' created in Korea and the other an artificial e-skin that incorporates the color-changing abilities of a chameleon. These achievements have paved the way for the latest innovation, which is a synthetic rubber stretchy flexible skin that makes it sensitive to pressure. It is the crowning achievement of Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University, and her 17-person team.

 

Prosthetic Hand with Artificial SkinProsthetic Hand with Artificial Skin
BaoGroup

 

Who is Zhenan Bao?

This married mother with two children is the child of two professors. She immigrated to the United States from China in 1990 and earned her PhD at the University of Chicago in 1995. She has spent more than ten years of her life attempting to develop an artificial skin.  Her innovative material has a dual function: namely, one that mimics the skin's ability to flex and heal and simultaneously serves as a sensor that transmits signals to the brain  concerning touch, temperature and pain.

The research team

Her prestigious research team has been successful in transmitting the touching sensation as an electric pulse in the brain cells of mice. Her work replicates that previously unexplored aspect of touch that enables humans to distinguish the differences in pressure. The results, which have been documented in the journal, Science, may one day allow users to feel sensation in their prosthetic limbs. The lead authors of the paper were: Benjamin Tee, a recent doctoral graduate in electrical engineering; Alex Chortos, a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering and Andre Berndt, a post-doctoral scholar in bio-engineering.

What is unique about this new artificial skin?

Bao states: "This is the first time a flexible, skin-like  material has been able to detect pressure and also  transmit a signal to a component of the nervous system."This stretchy and bendable skin is made from a synthetic rubber, which is designed with micron-scale pyramid-like structures that are super sensitive to pressure. While this is amazing enough, this plastic skin-like material responds to pressure by sending a coded signal directly to a living brain cell. This is a giant step towards adding  a sense of touch to prosthetic limbs.

Future implications of this new artificial skin

Bao's research team has just scratched the surface of possibilities, as they envision developing diverse sensors that will permit prosthetic wearers to distinguish for example, corduroy versus silk, or temperature differences between a cold glass of milk or a hot cup of coffee. This ambitious goal is potentially within reach but will take time as the human hand contains six types of biological sensing mechanisms and so far, only one avenue has been explored.

Bao concludes: "After spending many years in this work, I now see a clear path where we can take our artificial skin."

 

Prosthetic ArmProsthetic Arm

Slate

 

Artificial SkinArtificial Skin
ScienceRecorder

Bao's research team has just barely scratched the surface of possibilities as they envision developing diverse sensors that will permit  prosthetic wearers to distinguis for example, corduroy versus milk and a hot cup of coffee. This ambitious goal is potentially within reach but will take time as the human hand contains six types of biological sensing mechanisms and so far, only one avenue has been explored.

Bao concludes: "After spending many years in this work, I now see a clear path where we can take our artificial skin."

Can you envision other ways artificial skin could  be used to benefit mankind? Explain.

Closing thoughts on  innovation:

Never before in history has innovation offered the pormise of so much to so many in so short a time. ~ Bill Gates