Prosthetic limbs today are light-years ahead of where they were 20 years ago — they’re nearly as functional as the real thing. Now neurosurgeons at UC-Davis have announced that they’re working on advanced facial prosthetics: ones that will allow people who have suffered spinal injuries, strokes, or neurodegenerative disorders to regain control of their facial muscles.
The doctors fix the paralysis by tethering an advanced polymer muscle — a plastic mesh that changes shape when electrical current passes through it — to the skull. So far, the surgeons have mastered blinking: When a patient attempts to close his or her eyes, impulses coming from the brain trigger the artificial muscle fibers, which contract just like real muscles. The polymers are still being tested on cadavers, but the scientists hope it isn’t long before they can re-create other facial expressions — most notably, smiles.
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