A collaboration of scientists from MIT and Harvard Medical School has led to the creation of a very stretchable optical fiber that may end up being used to control optogenetic therapies and to detect signs of disease.
Made of a biocompatible hydrogel, the fiber can flex along with the body’s motion while maintaining its light transmitting capabilities. This would allow it to be used in the brain, which is very soft and fragile, without damaging it. Fiber optic cables that are currently in use typically have a glassy interior, making them quite rigid and not ideal for biomedical applications.
Optogenetics is a technique that requires a light source to activate neurons that have been genetically engineered to be sensitive to light. A lot of fundamental research behind optogenetics has been complete, but making it practical for clinical applications requires a lot of new engineering.
This novel hydrogel fiber may go a long way toward helping optogenetics achieve its promise, hopefully helping to effectively stop a number of debilitating neurological conditions.
This technology may also be used for other applications, including sensing various parameters in vivo. One example is detecting when something begins to push onto the fiber, such as a tissue growth or localized inflammation, or whether a joint is being used through its full range. To test out these possibilities, the team was able to estimate the strain on the fiber by comparing how different spectra of light are affected as they pass through the fiber under various strains.
Study in Advanced Materials: Highly Stretchable, Strain Sensing Hydrogel Optical Fibers…