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Posted: February 29, 2008
Bionic implants raise ethical questions
(Nanowerk News) Australian researchers trying to regrow damaged spinal cords with tiny bionic implants are seeing for the first time what's happening at the nanoscale.
Meanwhile, philosophers working alongside the researchers say it's time to find out more about how the public feels about such bionic research, which in some cases is being used to enhance human memory, physical abilities and perception.
Researchers told the International Conference On Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Melbourne this week that they are working towards repairing damaged tissue by extending bionic ear technology.
The bionics program at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science is developing flexible conducting polymers that can be implanted in the body and interact directly with living cells.
The polymers can deliver electrical, mechanical or chemical messages to cells, such as nerve and muscle cells, and receive signals back.
Dr Michael Higgins and colleagues are packing the polymers with cell growth factors and using them to encourage nerve cells to grow.
When an electrical stimulus is applied to the polymers they pulsate and slowly release the chemicals.
Both the mechanical movement itself and the chemicals it releases can help cells to grow but it's not yet clear how exactly this works.
To explore this, Higgins has been using an atomic force microscope to take a nanoscale look at what's happening.
This means he can look in unprecedented detail at the real-time interaction between the polymer and the proteins and receptors on the surface of nerve cell to understand how best to make them communicate with each other.
Higgins says the polymers could be used as a generic interface for a range of bionic applications.