Dr. Indrajith Senevirathne
LOCK HAVEN, Pa. - Current nano-based research may soon make it possible to restore sight, hearing, and movement to patients suffering from nerve damage. On September 28, Lock Haven University Assistant Professor of Physics Indrajith Senevirathne delivered a talk describing the research that he and LHU students are doing on nano sensor based implants and predicted major breakthroughs in the near future. Lock Haven University is a member of the Pennsylvania State
System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the largest provider of higher education in
the commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 250 degree and certificate
programs in more than 120 areas of study. Nearly 405,000 system alumni live and
work in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Senevirathne explained that one common example of such implants is the electrodes in pacemakers for heart patients. “But the current research goes well beyond that,” he said, “and is aimed at helping individuals with nerve-related injuries due to accident or disease.”
These implants can read the signals from the brain and inject them back into the nerves of the affected part of the body, and vice versa. By “bridging” the nerve signals, such implants could restore sight, hearing, and the capacity to move limbs. Dr. Senevirathne said, “At present, this is still in research, but I believe that due to nano-engineered devices, we’ll see a breakthrough and such a reliable working sensor will be available for patients in the near future.”
Dr. Senevirathne and his fellow researchers are working on a nano-structured sensor which uses an organic conductive biopolymer called PEDOT. PEDOT, he says, is very much like a plastic we see every day, but can conduct electricity. “This has given us much improved performance. We have a working prototype that will be improved the following months, and we hope to test these with laboratory mice in the next year.” They are also studying rejection and response issues, trying to learn how to mitigate these reactions.
“The great thing,” Dr. Senevirathne said, “is this research is interdisciplinary, so students at Lock Haven University from various science disciplines such as biology, chemistry, bio-chemistry, physics, mathematics, and computer science can work together to improve the device and its applicability.” Currently, he is collaborating with Penn State Engineering Sciences Department and eventually they intend to collaborate with Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience Institute at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “Our aim,” he said, “is to forge a collaborative research alliance with these institutions and the Lock Haven University nanotechnology program towards the development and application of implantable biosensors for neural interfacing.”
Dr. Senevirathne’s talk was part of the Lock Haven University Nanotechnology Seminar Series, whose purpose is to bring together faculty members, students and guests for exchanging ideas and research experience in the multidisciplinary field of nanotechnology.
The talk was very lively, with many questions from faculty and students. Dr. Senevirathne stated, “I was hoping to stir some interest in the students and faculty as this is a very cutting edge, exciting and multidisciplinary field but the questions and comments I had far surpassed my expectations.” He added, “Many students coming from very diverse back grounds were extremely interested and the same can be said about the faculty too. The discussion went well beyond the time allotted.”
Dr. Senevirathne summed up the value of the current research for nerve-injury patients and for LHU students participating in the project. “I believe we can help people who are in need for such medical and engineering breakthroughs and change their lives for the better,” he said, “We can also make our students more excited about science and research that would make them a career for a lifetime.”
The research is supported by PASSHE FPDC grant LOU# 2010-LHU-03 and the Lock Haven University Alternative Work Load agreement, both of which were awarded to Dr. Senevirathne in April 2010.