Cláudia Nunes, Dayana Sierra, Paula Vilarinho, and Paula Ferreira are the research team behind the development of the new bio-based material.
A research team from the Aveiro Institute of Materials – CICECO, a laboratory associated with the Department of Materials and Ceramic Engineering (DEMaC) is studying piezoelectric materials, i.e., materials capable of converting a mechanical stimulus into an electrical signal and vice-versa, and their applicability in the area of biomedicine.
The goal of the research team is to develop a flexible, biocompatible material with piezoelectric properties to be used in medical devices for the muscle rehabilitation of temporarily immobilized people. One of the researchers of the project, Paula Ferreira explains that the ultimate purpose “is to mechanically stimulate the piezoelectric material to generate a small electric current that will cause small muscle contractions that should help prevent the likely loss of muscle mass caused by lack of movement.
Biopolymers made from shrimp shells
Since piezoelectric materials are usually ceramic materials, being rigid and brittle, the UA team is developing a composite material, i.e., a combination of several materials, in order to obtain a flexible film. To do this, they are mixing the ceramic materials, in the form of nanoparticles, with biopolymers – macromolecules of natural origin.
To obtain the biopolymer, chitosan, the team is using shrimp and crustacean shells. The material developed will give rise to a thin film, which will be placed on the skin of the muscle to be rehabilitated, for example in the form of a dressing, and therefore the biocompatibility of the material is a necessary requirement in order not to cause allergies or other adverse effects in patients.
This is a project that is still at an early stage and the tests performed were only at the level of measuring signals, in order to understand what kind of responses can be expected. The team has also been investigating the polymer on its own, and with different amounts of particles, to better understand how it works and understand how more or less strong signals can arise.
It is expected that, after the study of the material, a prototype will be developed and tested with patients in a Finnish hospital, associated with the University of Tampere, in Finland, a partner of the project through the ECIU – European Consortium of Innovative Universities network.
This research is part of the doctoral project of Dayana Guzmán Sierra, which focused on the development of flexible piezoelectric bionanocomposites for neuromuscular stimulation. The project is funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).