From 3D printing of human tissue to artificial hearts, bioengineering is rarely far from our pages these days. One area that has eluded the technologists thus far however is the musculature. After all, here’s a tissue type that requires a perfectly balanced combination of strength, shape, flexibility, stiffness, durability and motive power to name a few.
If an artificial muscle could be produced one can see the possibilities, because imbuing a lifeless prosthesis with motive capability would render it a far more useful implant and one that could be usefully employed in people who may not have that motive capability through disease or injury.
Previous attempts to develop artificial muscle tissue have resulted in materials with limitations including short working life, lack of adequate power and poor efficiency. Now though researchers at University of British Columbia are reporting in journal Science the development of a new artificial muscle, made from the same polyethylene polymer fibers used in fishing line and nylon. The additional benefit of using current age materials lies in its comparative low cost.
The test material is extremely powerful, long lasting, and can compress to half its starting size when activated by applying heat. At over 100 times as strong as human muscle of the same volume the material can generate 5.3 kilowatts of work per kilogram of mass, which is said to be the same as produced by a jet engine, which all sounds a bit scary to be honest, but at least demonstrates the material’s potential.
Among the technical challenges faced by the research team will be how to attach a heating element to the artificial muscle material, but once that’s been achieved it’s possible to envisage it being used to activate prosthetic devices as well as replace muscle lost through trauma or even disease.
Science Abstract here.
Source: Science 21 February 2014: Vol. 343 no. 6173 pp. 868-872 DOI: 10.1126/science.1246906