Research

Neural Regeneration

Biomedical Devices

Assistive Devices

Soft Robotics

Biomaterials

Bio-printing

Wearables

Student Highlights

 

Neural Regeneration

Nerve trauma and neurodegenerative disease can cause debilitating and life-changing impacts. The complex nature of the neural systems, especially for injury to the spinal cord and brain, means that very little regeneration, repair or healing happens, such that damage is often permanent and devastating, creating tremendous burden on patients, families and society. Research into technological methods to enhance neural regeneration and rehabilitation to restore function will have a huge impact in restoring independence and ability for those who suffer form these conditions.


Microchannel nerve guidance scaffolds

D. Shahriari, G. Loke, I. Tafel, S. Park, P. Chiang, Y. Fink, P. Anikeeva, Scalable Fabrication of Porous Microchannel Nerve Guidance Scaffolds with Complex Geometries, Adv. Mater. 2019, 31, 1902021
Microchannel scaffolds can accelerate nerve repair by guiding growing neurites and axons across injury sites, whose growth are influenced by geometry, chemical, mechanical and porous properties.

Printing of single cells

E. Cheng, H. Yu, A. Ahmadi, and K. C. Cheung, Investigation of the hydrodynamic response of cells in drop on demand piezoelectric inkjet nozzles, Biofabrication 2016 8, 015008
Single cell printing is being developed using piezoelectrically actuated inkjet printing towards cell printers for tissue engineering and fine-control over heterogeneous tissue structure at the interface with artificial materials.

3D bio-printing neural tissue

L. De la Vega, K. Karmirian, S. M. Willerth, Engineering Neural Tissue from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Using Novel Small Molecule Releasing Microspheres, Advanced Biosystems 2018, 2, 1800133
The Willerth lab is designing bio-printed heterogeneous tissue constructs to develop spinal cord-mimicking tissue with novel drug delivery systems using microparticles.

Building an artificial peripheral nerve sensor

C. Hamilton, K. Tian, J. Bae, C. Yang, G. Alici, G. M. Spinks, Z. Suo, J. J. Vlassak, and M. in het Panhuis, “A Soft Stretchable Sensor: Towards Peripheral Nerve Signal Sensing,” MRS Advances, vol. 3, no. 28, pp. 1597–1602, 2018
Dr. in het Panhuis’s research in soft robotics draws inspiration from biological systems to 3D print structures that enhance human aquatic mobility and build soft structures that sense human nerves.

 

Biomedical Devices

Biomedical bionic devices can include implantables or other devices that assist in carrying out a medical function involving an interface or coordinated operation between human systems and a device. Implantables are devices that are implanted into the body, traditionally to augment or restore function. Examples include pacemakers, orthopaedic implants, and Cochlear implants. These devices have been tremendously successful over the past 40+ years in restoring function to those with health conditions or who have suffered injury. Active devices have the ability to restore sensation and control. For example, new brain-machine interfaces can allow users to control a prosthetic arm. By integrating with the central nervous system, it's possible to form a closed-loop with two-way communication between the user and the device. This could be used to restore a wide variety of functions, where the user's intentions are conveyed through worn or implanted devices.


Microchannel nerve guidance scaffolds

D. Shahriari, G. Loke, I. Tafel, S. Park, P. Chiang, Y. Fink, P. Anikeeva, Scalable Fabrication of Porous Microchannel Nerve Guidance Scaffolds with Complex Geometries, Adv. Mater. 2019, 31, 1902021
Microchannel scaffolds can accelerate nerve repair by guiding growing neurites and axons across injury sites, whose growth are influenced by geometry, chemical, mechanical and porous properties.

Pressure detection device

J. D. W. Madden et al., Proximity and touch sensing using deformable ionic conductors, Proceedings Volume 10163, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2017, 2017, 1016305
The Madden lab is developing a prevention pressure-sensing mat for pressure ulcer prevention, by detecting pressure, proximity and touch during active deformation of a surface, for integration into bed sheets to detect pressure points.

Hollow microneedle array for painless injections

P. Shrestha, B. Stoeber, Fluid absorption by skin tissue during intradermal injections through hollow microneedles, Scientific Reports 2018 8, 13749
The Stoeber lab and Microdermics team have developed a hollow metal microneedle injection system as a painless alternative for vaccinations and therapeutics.

Smart stent technology for clinical application

X. Chen et. al, Medical Implants: Enabling Angioplasty‐Ready “Smart” Stents to Detect In‐Stent Restenosis and Occlusion, Advanced Science 2018, 5, 1700560
The Takahata lab is developing an implantable smart stent that monitors minute changes in blood flow through arteries to detect early narrowing and prevent heart complications

Hydrogels for coating biomedical devices

Z. Wang et al, Mechanically enhanced nested-network hydrogels as a coating material for biomedical devices, Acta Biomaterialia 2018, 70, 98-109
Dr. Chiao’s lab focuses on the fabrication of micro-electro-mechanical systems for biological applications. His research involves investigating the versatile properties of liquid based gels that could be used for encapsulation of mechanical interfaces.

Molecular motors in a muscle fiber

M. Bacca, O. A. Saleh, R. M. NcNeeking, Contraction of polymer gels created by the activity of molecular motors, Soft Matter, 2019, 15, 4467-4475
By including fast spinning motors that tangle up in the fibers of gels, gels can be made to contract the same way the contraction of fibers inside muscle cells allows for physical shape change of the cell.

Artificial muscles

C. S. Haines, M. D. Lima, G. M. Spinks, J. Foroughi, J. D. W Madden, et al., Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line and Sewing Thread, Science 2014, Vol. 343, Issue 6173, pp. 868-872
The Madden lab is developing an artificial muscle made of nylon that has similar contraction length to human muscle, but 100x stronger, with potential application in biomedical and robotic devices.

 

Assistive Devices

Assistive devices include many technologies that are designed to assist a person to perform a particular task, ranging from day-to-day or superior to ordinary capabilities. They can often be necessary to enable people to carry out daily activities and participate actively in community life. Examples include mobility, hearing or cognitive aids, screen reading software, and prosthetic and robotic devices that can help to enable many ordinary activities by those with and without impairments. These can have transformative impacts on lives of people who use them in allowing them to enjoy high quality of life and independence. Some exciting technological developments include robotic exoskeletons, artificial hearts, and prosthetics that use sensors to detect electrical signals in the muscles and transmit and translate them to motor-controlled precise actions.


Pressure detection device

J. D. W. Madden et al., Proximity and touch sensing using deformable ionic conductors, Proceedings Volume 10163, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2017, 2017, 1016305
The Madden lab is developing a prevention pressure-sensing mat for pressure ulcer prevention, by detecting pressure, proximity and touch during active deformation of a surface, for integration into bed sheets to detect pressure points.

Building technology to increase autonomy of spinal cord injury population

M. Khalili, H. F. M. Van der Loos, J. Borisoff, Towards and autonomy-based approach to design and develop mobility assistive technologies for spinal cord injury population 2018, Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistave Technology Society of North America Conference
Mobility impairment is the third most common form of disability in Canada, and a large number of the mobility impared population relies on wheeled mobility devices, but classical wheeled devices are limited in their range of autonomy. By incorporating new designs, device-specific restrictions on mobility can be addressed to give the user more autonomy.

Tactile sensor technology and smart tactile sensing systems

L. Zou, C. Ge, Z. J. Wang, E. Cretu, X. Li, Novel tactile sensor technology and smart tactile sensing systems: A review, Sensors 2017, 17(11), 2653
Dr. Cretu’s lab is focused on developing bio-medical devices through research of adapted microsystems and microstructures. They are looking for impactful ways to use his research with tactile sensors to create advanced biofeedback devices.

Human-like movement of fingers stimulated by bionic taste

T. Kim, M. Kaur, W. S. Kim, Humanoid Robot Actuation through Precise Chemical Sensing Signals, Advanced Materials Technologies, 2019, 4, 1900570
Kim's lab integrates a taste sensor for salts in the tips of robotic fingers that bend to various degrees when they encounter different ion concentrations.

Artificial muscles

C. S. Haines, M. D. Lima, G. M. Spinks, J. Foroughi, J. D. W Madden, et al., Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line and Sewing Thread, Science 2014, Vol. 343, Issue 6173, pp. 868-872
The Madden lab is developing an artificial muscle made of nylon that has similar contraction length to human muscle, but 100x stronger, with potential application in biomedical and robotic devices.

Building an artificial peripheral nerve sensor

C. Hamilton, K. Tian, J. Bae, C. Yang, G. Alici, G. M. Spinks, Z. Suo, J. J. Vlassak, and M. in het Panhuis, “A Soft Stretchable Sensor: Towards Peripheral Nerve Signal Sensing,” MRS Advances, vol. 3, no. 28, pp. 1597–1602, 2018
Dr. in het Panhuis’s research in soft robotics draws inspiration from biological systems to 3D print structures that enhance human aquatic mobility and build soft structures that sense human nerves.

 

Soft Robotics

To bring robots into the home and into contact with humans, researchers have turned to biology for inspiration in the design of so-called ‘soft robots’. These robots incorporate soft materials that are inexpensive and provide a continuously deformable structure that enables extensive movement and safe interaction with humans. The addition of ‘smart’ materials further provides opportunities to reduce the weight, size and power requirements of robots, for example by using a material that passively adapts to surroundings, thus reducing computational requirements. Recent advances in soft robotics seek to mimic the properties of human tissues. Examples include artificial muscles that can be faster, lighter and more energy-efficient than conventional actuators and produce fine motion control along multiple axes, as well as compliant support structures that can store elastic energy mid-movement in the same way as the human skeleton. The inspiration for such advances comes from nature, whether from humans or even invertebrates like cephalopods, which achieve locomotion and manipulation without a skeleton. The next step in this journey, and the focus of Bionics@UBC, involves the use of smart materials to integrate sensation, actuation, computation, power storage and communication into a soft structure that is suitable for human interaction.


Autonomously self-healing hydrogels

D. L. Taylor, M. In Het Panhuis, Self-Healing Hydrogels, Adv Mater. 2016, 28(41), 9060-9093
Self healing hydrogels facilitate soft, deformable materials and components that can confirm to complex and changing environments such as biological interfaces and can regain shape and functionality after large deformations.

Tactile sensor technology and smart tactile sensing systems

L. Zou, C. Ge, Z. J. Wang, E. Cretu, X. Li, Novel tactile sensor technology and smart tactile sensing systems: A review, Sensors 2017, 17(11), 2653
Dr. Cretu’s lab is focused on developing bio-medical devices through research of adapted microsystems and microstructures. They are looking for impactful ways to use his research with tactile sensors to create advanced biofeedback devices.

Molecular motors in a muscle fiber

M. Bacca, O. A. Saleh, R. M. NcNeeking, Contraction of polymer gels created by the activity of molecular motors, Soft Matter, 2019, 15, 4467-4475
By including fast spinning motors that tangle up in the fibers of gels, gels can be made to contract the same way the contraction of fibers inside muscle cells allows for physical shape change of the cell.

Human-like movement of fingers stimulated by bionic taste

T. Kim, M. Kaur, W. S. Kim, Humanoid Robot Actuation through Precise Chemical Sensing Signals, Advanced Materials Technologies, 2019, 4, 1900570
Kim's lab integrates a taste sensor for salts in the tips of robotic fingers that bend to various degrees when they encounter different ion concentrations.

Artificial muscles

C. S. Haines, M. D. Lima, G. M. Spinks, J. Foroughi, J. D. W Madden, et al., Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line and Sewing Thread, Science 2014, Vol. 343, Issue 6173, pp. 868-872
The Madden lab is developing an artificial muscle made of nylon that has similar contraction length to human muscle, but 100x stronger, with potential application in biomedical and robotic devices.

Building an artificial peripheral nerve sensor

C. Hamilton, K. Tian, J. Bae, C. Yang, G. Alici, G. M. Spinks, Z. Suo, J. J. Vlassak, and M. in het Panhuis, “A Soft Stretchable Sensor: Towards Peripheral Nerve Signal Sensing,” MRS Advances, vol. 3, no. 28, pp. 1597–1602, 2018
Dr. in het Panhuis’s research in soft robotics draws inspiration from biological systems to 3D print structures that enhance human aquatic mobility and build soft structures that sense human nerves.

https://images.indianexpress.com/2019/04/artificial-intelligence-pixa.jpg

Interaction between artificial intelligence and medicine

A. Ho, Deep Ethical Learning: Taking the Interplay of Human and Artificial Intelligence Seriously, Hastings Center Report 2019, 49, 36-39
Anita Ho’s research studies the intersection of healthcare and ethics, and has studied how implementing systems of artificial intelligence in clinical environments could be both beneficial and harmful.

 

Biomaterials

In the area of bionics, our biomaterials can interact safely with biological systems while inducing minimal undesired bio-response. They are commonly used for medical applications to augment or replace natural function, for example in a passive artificial meniscus or an active neural interface. The goal of these materials is to integrate seamlessly with the body, avoiding any compatibility issues or immune responses, such as scar tissue formation, which can negatively effect the performance of a device over time. They can be hard, like ceramic bone-fillers, or soft and pliable, like hydrogel coatings for implants. They cover a wide range of applications, from orthopaedic implants to skin grafts, and a similarly wide range of materials, from ceramics to polymers to engineered tissues. Advanced materials bridge the gap between engineered devices and human tissues and the field of bionics is dependent on these materials to realistically apply breakthroughs in areas like brain machine interfaces, prosthetic limbs, surgical implants, and many others.


Microchannel nerve guidance scaffolds

D. Shahriari, G. Loke, I. Tafel, S. Park, P. Chiang, Y. Fink, P. Anikeeva, Scalable Fabrication of Porous Microchannel Nerve Guidance Scaffolds with Complex Geometries, Adv. Mater. 2019, 31, 1902021
Microchannel scaffolds can accelerate nerve repair by guiding growing neurites and axons across injury sites, whose growth are influenced by geometry, chemical, mechanical and porous properties.

Autonomously self-healing hydrogels

D. L. Taylor, M. In Het Panhuis, Self-Healing Hydrogels, Adv Mater. 2016, 28(41), 9060-9093
Self healing hydrogels facilitate soft, deformable materials and components that can confirm to complex and changing environments such as biological interfaces and can regain shape and functionality after large deformations.

Printing of single cells

E. Cheng, H. Yu, A. Ahmadi, and K. C. Cheung, Investigation of the hydrodynamic response of cells in drop on demand piezoelectric inkjet nozzles, Biofabrication 2016 8, 015008
Single cell printing is being developed using piezoelectrically actuated inkjet printing towards cell printers for tissue engineering and fine-control over heterogeneous tissue structure at the interface with artificial materials.

3D bio-printing neural tissue

L. De la Vega, K. Karmirian, S. M. Willerth, Engineering Neural Tissue from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Using Novel Small Molecule Releasing Microspheres, Advanced Biosystems 2018, 2, 1800133
The Willerth lab is designing bio-printed heterogeneous tissue constructs to develop spinal cord-mimicking tissue with novel drug delivery systems using microparticles.

Hydrogels for coating biomedical devices

Z. Wang et al, Mechanically enhanced nested-network hydrogels as a coating material for biomedical devices, Acta Biomaterialia 2018, 70, 98-109
Dr. Chiao’s lab focuses on the fabrication of micro-electro-mechanical systems for biological applications. His research involves investigating the versatile properties of liquid based gels that could be used for encapsulation of mechanical interfaces.

Molecular motors in a muscle fiber

M. Bacca, O. A. Saleh, R. M. NcNeeking, Contraction of polymer gels created by the activity of molecular motors, Soft Matter, 2019, 15, 4467-4475
By including fast spinning motors that tangle up in the fibers of gels, gels can be made to contract the same way the contraction of fibers inside muscle cells allows for physical shape change of the cell.

Building an artificial peripheral nerve sensor

C. Hamilton, K. Tian, J. Bae, C. Yang, G. Alici, G. M. Spinks, Z. Suo, J. J. Vlassak, and M. in het Panhuis, “A Soft Stretchable Sensor: Towards Peripheral Nerve Signal Sensing,” MRS Advances, vol. 3, no. 28, pp. 1597–1602, 2018
Dr. in het Panhuis’s research in soft robotics draws inspiration from biological systems to 3D print structures that enhance human aquatic mobility and build soft structures that sense human nerves.

 

Bio-printing

The ability to print complex 3D structures has led to significant innovation in fields such as soft sensors and actuators, prosthetics, medical implants and tissue engineering. These fields, among many others, contribute to the advancement of bionics towards lightweight, durable, highly-functional and biologically-integrated devices. One such advance has come from Aspect Biosystems, winner of the BC Tech Association’s ‘Most Promising Startup 2016’, co-founded by one of our members. This Canadian company is producing complex, living tissues using 3D printing technology and examining the application of these tissues in medical devices.


Autonomously self-healing hydrogels

D. L. Taylor, M. In Het Panhuis, Self-Healing Hydrogels, Adv Mater. 2016, 28(41), 9060-9093
Self healing hydrogels facilitate soft, deformable materials and components that can confirm to complex and changing environments such as biological interfaces and can regain shape and functionality after large deformations.

Printing of single cells

E. Cheng, H. Yu, A. Ahmadi, and K. C. Cheung, Investigation of the hydrodynamic response of cells in drop on demand piezoelectric inkjet nozzles, Biofabrication 2016 8, 015008
Single cell printing is being developed using piezoelectrically actuated inkjet printing towards cell printers for tissue engineering and fine-control over heterogeneous tissue structure at the interface with artificial materials.

3D bio-printing neural tissue

L. De la Vega, K. Karmirian, S. M. Willerth, Engineering Neural Tissue from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Using Novel Small Molecule Releasing Microspheres, Advanced Biosystems 2018, 2, 1800133
The Willerth lab is designing bio-printed heterogeneous tissue constructs to develop spinal cord-mimicking tissue with novel drug delivery systems using microparticles.

 

Wearables

Wearable devices fit on the outside of the body and can be worn like clothing. Commercial examples like smart watches have already made an impact on the market and coming products have the potential to dramatically change our understanding of health and wellbeing. Imagine a set of stretchable devices that conform to the body and provide health data that are easily viewable and understandable to the wearer. This information can be used to guide behaviour, track athletic progress, and warn of potential health problems. Enabling technologies such as 5G wireless and artificial intelligence can unleash the power of health data to put individuals in charge. By rapidly collecting data through soft sensors on the body and interpreting the data with advanced software, valuable insights can be provided to users in real-time. In addition to sensing applications, new actuation and energy-harvesting strategies open the door to wearables that support movement, balance and active involvement. This is important for those who want to avoid injury, reduce the burden of extreme exercise (e.g., hiking a mountain) or rehabilitate after injury.


Pressure detection device

J. D. W. Madden et al., Proximity and touch sensing using deformable ionic conductors, Proceedings Volume 10163, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2017, 2017, 1016305
The Madden lab is developing a prevention pressure-sensing mat for pressure ulcer prevention, by detecting pressure, proximity and touch during active deformation of a surface, for integration into bed sheets to detect pressure points.

Artificial muscles

C. S. Haines, M. D. Lima, G. M. Spinks, J. Foroughi, J. D. W Madden, et al., Artificial Muscles from Fishing Line and Sewing Thread, Science 2014, Vol. 343, Issue 6173, pp. 868-872
The Madden lab is developing an artificial muscle made of nylon that has similar contraction length to human muscle, but 100x stronger, with potential application in biomedical and robotic devices.

 

Student Highlights

Smart sock for deep vein thrombosis

Sukhneet Dhillon
PhD, Biomedical Engineering

Sukhneet is developing coating and optimizing nylon artificial muscles for application to invasive and non-invasive medical devices as well as compression socks for patients with deep vein thrombosis.

Bio-printing neural tissue

Laura de la Vega
PhD, Biomedical and Tissue Engineering

Laura has been developing 3D printed neural tissue with novel drug delivery systems.

Transparent tactile sensors

Mirza Saquib Sarwar
PhD, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Saquib has recently published a new transparent touch sensor applicable to wearables and robotics that is flexible, stretchable and operates during active deformation.

Inkjet cell printing

Eric Cheng
PhD, Biomedical Engineering

Eric has been developing technology to perform single cell printing using piezoelectrically actuated inkjet printing towards cell printers for tissue engineering and fine-control over heterogeneous tissue structure at the interface with artificial materials.

Nylon-based artificial muscle fibres

Xu Fan, Kieran Morton
BASc, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Fan and Kieran have been developing artificial muscle technologies towards higher strength, actuation speed and lower energy usage for biomedical assistive devices.

Prevention device for pressure ulcers

Justin Wyss
MASc, Biomedical Engineering

Justin is developing a prevention device for pressure ulcers, which are one of the most expensive preventable secondary complications for patients with spinal cord injury, using a new sensor technology that that detects proximity, touch and pressure.

Stretchable electrochromic displays

Claire Preston
MASc, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Claire is developing stretchable electrochromic displays that change colour with application of voltage with application to wearable electronics for biomonitoring and camouflage as well as soft robotic skin.