Young UNSW biomedical engineer Dr Rylie Green is gaining national attention for her work on conductive plastics for the bionic implants of the future, after winning a place in the national Fresh Science program.
Dr Green, from the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, is part of the research team working on the bionic eye project at UNSW. She is developing new-generation conductive polymers that can carry electrical signals for use in implanted devices such as bionic eyes and ears.
"Our plastics will lead to smaller devices that use safer smaller currents and that encourage nerve interaction," said Dr Green, whose research has been published in Biomaterials.
"Our focus is on developing a plastic that makes a better neural connection."
The process involves incorporating natural body proteins into special conductive plastics, or polymers, then using them as coatings on the tiny electrodes that connect implants, such as bionic eyes, to nerve tissue.
These "biopolymers" overcome problems such as scarring encountered with metal electrodes, where the body recognises them as foreign objects and forms scar tissue, eventually shortening the useful life of the implant.
Biopolymer electrodes will also improve the quality of the signal between a bionic device and the brain, meaning users of the devices will enjoy better quality sight and hearing.
Dr Green is currently in early lab trials of the polymers.
"Using conductive plastics for medical electrodes will revolutionise the performance of bionic implants," she said.
Dr Green is one of 16 early-career researchers selected from 80 applicants around the country for the 2010 Fresh Science program - a "science communication boot camp" sponsored by the Federal Government.
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