Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Artificial Muscle Heals Itself, Charges IPod

Professor Qibing Pei and coworkers at UCLA have developed artificial muscle which expands when stimulated with electricity. As it contracts, it generates a small electric current.

This could be exploited in two main ways. If you have plenty of electricity, you can use it to make something move. Conversely, if you have an abundance of movement, you can use it to generate electricity.

The idea of being able to replace damaged skeletal or particularly cardiac muscle with artificial muscle is an exciting one.  However, as far as I know, none of the artificial muscles thus far developed are ready for any kind of clinical trial in humans.  

Conventional muscles are biological motors which use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for gas. When you hit a muscle's throttle, myosin filaments "walk" along adjacent actin filaments, causing the muscle to contract.

Dr. Pei and his coworkers created their artificial muscle using an electroactive polymer and carbon nanotubules. Their material also demonstrated an ability to "heal" itself ; i.e. seal off microtears to prevent them from spreading to other areas.

I currently spend a lot of time at work looking at magnetic resonance (MR) images of muscles in my patients. I look forward to the day when artificial muscle implants are so common that  I'll have to work hard to distinguish them from the real thing.

(via Slashdot)

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