Research Snapshot: Drs. Eric W. Atkinson and Kevin Otto

By Michelle Jaffee

A team of University of Florida neuroscientists and biomedical engineers report that a novel implantable device called MARTEENI showed promise in a rat-model study to potentially improve functionality of prosthetic devices designed to work with peripheral nerves in place of a lost limb.

close-up look at the E-M-G electrode connecting and stimulating a chamber of hydrogel
This diagram represents the MARTEENI implant with insets showing a recording site (top left) where information is collected and hydrogel (bottom right) with channels that support nerve regeneration. The nerve will grow through the hydrogel (blue color) and past the recording sites, allowing the collection of biological information at several locations in the regenerated nerve.

In the new study, published online in the Journal of Neural Engineering in August, the authors highlight the importance of high-bandwidth neural devices to advance the next generation of neural-enabled prosthetics and suggest that a promising approach is the MARTEENI device, which stands for Magnetically Aligned Regenerative Tissue-Engineered Electronic Nerve Interface.

The study is the first in vivo functional assessment of the MARTEENI device, which was designed and produced at UF in a multidisciplinary collaboration.

“This study builds upon previous clinical trials showing that neural-enabled prostheses have the potential to improve functionality and freedom of movement,” said Eric W. Atkinson, Ph.D., who as a doctoral student led the study with co-principal investigator Kevin Otto, Ph.D.Our findings offer evidence that regenerative peripheral nerve interfaces could be a promising solution.”

The research team also included co-principal investigators Jack Judy, director of UF’s Nanoscience Institute for Medical & Engineering Technology; Christine Schmidt, Ph.D., chair of the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Carlos M. Rinaldi-Ramos, Ph.D., chair of chemical engineering.

The MARTEENI device is designed to utilize the natural tendency of the peripheral nervous system to regenerate. In the study, MARTEENI devices suspended within a microchannel-embedded, tissue-engineered hydrogel were implanted in the gaps of severed sciatic nerves in rats. Electrophysiology was recorded, and channel-isolated activity was observed in both acute and chronic experiments, the research team reported.

The findings show a high likelihood that observed electrophysiological activity recorded from implanted MARTEENIs originated from neural tissue, they said.

“MARTEENI represents a novel approach to interfacing with the peripheral nervous system,” Atkinson said. “Our results serve as a proof of concept that MARTEENI is capable of collecting channel-isolated electrophysiological activity in both acute and chronic settings.”

Read the paper in the Journal of Neural Engineering