RMIT University Researchers Create Artificial Stretchable Skin That Can Feel Pain and Changes in Temperature

An electronic skin prototype created by RMIT University researchers can react to pain and changes in temperature with remarkable accuracy. This prototype can be used as an alternative to invasive skin grafts and also in the making of better epidermal prosthetics.Skin Touch

Skin is the largest organ of the human body. It is a soft and flexible outer covering of the body performing the functions of temperature regulation, and sensation. It also protects the body from microorganisms and associated infections, hence playing a vital role in the immune system of the body.

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Skin basically acts like a somatosensor, reacting to the external stimuli by passing the information to the brain rapidly through neurons. The skin has many features that scientists have been trying to replicate in the laboratory setting to create better prosthetics and use artificial skin as non-invasive grafts. However, most researchers couldn’t show usable results.

A new study claims to have created an electronic skin

A research team led by Professor Madhu Bhaskaran at RMIT University, Australia has developed a prototypic electronic skin that mimics the functions of real skin.

The team’s electronic skin is fully equipped with pain sensors, a technology that has not been used in prior studies. 

The pain sensor technology uses the team’s three previously patented technologies, as mentioned below:

  • Stretchable electronics: A combination of oxide material and biocompatible skin that is thin and unbreakable.
  • Temperature-reactive coatings: composed of an extremely thin material that transforms in response to heat.
  • Brain-mimicking memory: electronic memory cells that act in the same way as the long term memory does in the brain

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Artificial somatosensors were created in their electronic skin prototype that can feel pain, change in temperature, and respond to pain stimuli, just like real skin. Furthermore, their prototype has the ability to differentiate between the varying degrees of pain stimulus, from being pricked lightly to being stabbed. The ability of the electronic skin to respond to the pain, temperature, or sense stimuli depends on the brain mimicking technology used in the prototype. This is a groundbreaking development as no other research has been able to differentiate between degrees of stimuli.
This prototype can be used in the development of better prosthetics and it may decrease the need for invasive skin grafting.

Furthermore, the team did not just build the prototype with pain sensors but in fact, also built functional sensing technology and temperature-reactive sensors. Both of them use two out of the three patented technologies mentioned above. Sensation sensors use stretchable electronics and brain-mimicking memory technologies whereas the temperature sensors use temperature-reactive coatings along with the memory technology.

The researcher, MD Ataur Rahman has explained the team’s new development, stating, ‘We’ve essentially created the first electronic somatosensors — replicating the key features of the body’s complex system of neurons, neural pathways, and receptors that drive our perception of sensory stimuli’.

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RMIT University researchers Create artificial Stretchable skin that can feel pain and changes in temperature

References

Artificial Somatosensors: Feedback Receptors for Electronic Skins

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