Fixing Nerve Damage, "Terminator"-Style
Tsinghua University researchers are working on a liquid metal that, when used to connect the severed ends of nerves, conduct electrical impulses almost as effectively.
Kecia Lynn has worked as a technical writer, editor, software developer, arts administrator, summer camp director, and television host. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she is currently living in Iowa City and working on her first novel.
What's the Latest Development?
Researchers at Beijing's Tsinghua University are borrowing from the popular Terminator series of movies for their latest project: They have created an alloy of gallium, indium and selenium that, when used on the severed sciatic nerves of bullfrogs, conducted electrical impulses almost as well as an undamaged nerve. Because the alloy is liquid at room temperature, it can be removed from the body with a syringe once the nerve ends have reconnected.
What's the Big Idea?
The healing process for severed nerves is slow, and current methods of assistance, such as the use of grafting scaffolds, can carry serious risks. Also, if the corresponding muscles are unable to receive electrical impulses, they could atrophy. Expert Mei Zhang says that while the concept of using liquid metal is innovative, it too could be dangerous: "If it gets into your bloodstream, in the worst case you could be poisoned." Tsinghua's Jing Liu agrees. "[T]remendous evaluations about the safety of the material are needed....This is a brand new trial in its initial stage."
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