Smart skin electrolyzed with Hydrogel can help amply sufferers feel again

Just below the skin, there are electrical charges that revolve around relaying information to your brain and spinal cord about your environment such as temperature fluctuations, texture changes, vibrations, and pain. Replicating this sensory complexity is the goal of many scientists when searching for artificial skin that functions like human skin. And in the last few decades, a promising supersensitive material has emerged: hydrogels.

Billed as the first biomaterial designed for the human body, the hydrogel is soft, flexible, highly absorbent and can be engineered to self-heal. The hydrogel also generates an electrical charge to the touch due to the charged molecules inside it. But exactly why hydrogels can do this, causing scientists to scratch their heads.

Thankfully, we now have the answer. In a new study published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers in Canada and France have found that pressure applied to the hydrogel changes the distribution of charged molecules (called ions) in the material and creates an electric field. The discovery confirms the hydrogel’s potential as an adjunct to human-like artificial skin and could spark a host of life-changing biomedical applications such as drug delivery or prosthetics.

“The way hydrogel sensors work is that they generate voltages and currents in response to stimuli, such as pressure or touch – what we call the piezoelectric effect,” said Yuta Dobashi, a researcher student at the University of Toronto and lead author of the new study, said in a press release. “But we don’t know exactly how to generate these voltages.”

As a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Dobashi set out to uncover the mystery of how these voltages form. He created sensors made of hydrogels containing positive and negative ions of different sizes. These sensors are then blasted with a magnetic field to track exactly how the ions move in the presence of a pressure.

“When pressure is applied to the gel, that pressure propagates ions in the liquid at different speeds, creating an electrical signal,” he said. “Positive ions, which tend to be smaller, move faster than larger, negative ions.”


Yuta Dobashi and biomedical engineer John Madden at the University of British Columbia analyzed the phenomenon behind the hydrogel’s electrical capabilities.

Kai Jacobson

The result is a mixture of positively and negatively charged ions distributed all over the place. This creates an electric field and, in turn, is what makes a hydrogel capable of generating electrical signals.

This new knowledge could enhance the use of hydrogels in our daily lives. E-smart skin is a growing market totaling $4.5 billion in 2019 and hydrogels can electrify it to the next level. One day, we might be able to incorporate this material into our clothes or right on our skin to gather health or environmental information in real time.

But Dobashi and John Madden, a biomedical engineer at UBC and co-author of the study, see immediate applications in medical implants such as prostheses that can feel like skin or artificial joints. can feel the pressure. Hydrogels can even be used for drug delivery, where you can control how much medication is released into your body with a simple push.

“You can imagine a prosthetic arm covered in an ion skin,” Madden said in the release. “The skin senses an object through touch or pressure, transmits that information through nerves to the brain, and then the brain activates the necessary motors to lift or hold the object. With further development of sensor skins and interfaces with nerves, this biological interface could be visualized. ” Smart skin electrolyzed with Hydrogel can help amply sufferers feel again


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