Robotics breakthrough could stop your body attacking medical devices

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Researchers from NUI Galway have announced a breakthrough in robotics which could help stop the body from attacking implanted medical devices.

Huge numbers of people live with medical devices implanted into their bodies such as pacemakers, neural probes, glucose biosensors and drug and cell delivery devices.

However these devices have problems that can limit their long term effectiveness, as your own body will often try to attack them as foreign objects.

One of these attack responses is fibrosis, where a dense fibrous capsule will grow around the device,impairing its function or causing it to fail altogether.

The failure rates for implanted medical devices which can be attributed to fibrosis ranges from 30% to 50% for implantable pacemakers or 30% for mammoplasty prosthetics.

In the case of biosensors or drug/ cell delivery devices the dense fibrous capsule which can build up around the implanted device can seriously impede its function, with consequences for the patient and costs to the health care system.

A transatlantic group of researchers from NUIG, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and AMBER the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering have announced a breakthrough in soft robotics which could help tackle this issue.

In research published in the internationally respected journal Science Robotics they describe using a device known as a dynamic soft reservoir which can significantly reduce the build-up of the fibrous capsule.

It works by manipulating the environment between the medical devices and the body through mechanical oscillation which can change how cells respond around the implant.

In a bio-inspired design, the DSR can change its shape at a microscope scale through an actuating membrane.

Dr Eimear Dolan, Lecturer of Biomedical Engineering at NUIG and chief author of the study said “We are very excited to publish this study as it describes an innovative approach to modulate the foreign body response using soft robotics.”

Dr Dolan has recently received an SFI research fellowship to bring this technology forward with a focus on Type 1 diabetes, which can be treated with an implanted insulin pump.

Professor Garry Duffy, Professor in Anatomy at NUI Galway and AMBER Principal Investigator added “We feel the ideas described in this paper could transform future medical devices and how they interact with the body.”

While Professor Ellen Roche, senior co-author of the study and Assistant Professor at MIT said “This study demonstrates how mechanical perturbations of an implant can modulate the host foreign body response.”

“This has vast potential for a range of clinical applications and will hopefully lead to many future collaborative studies between our teams.”

To read the full study in Science Robotics, visit: