DARPA awards $1 million for implantable polymer research

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Walter Voit, PhD, $1 million to help fund polymer research intended to improve the utility of implantable medical devices, including prostheses, in wounded soldiers.

Voit, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, was one of 25 junior faculty members in the country selected to receive a DARPA Young Faculty Award. 

Voit created shape memory polymers, which are materials that are responsive to the environment. Implanted when rigid, they become less rigid in the body and flex toward the stiffness of the tissue. Voit’s proposal called for using these polymers in the microfabrication process known as photolithography to create medical devices that will survive implantation in the body for more than 1 year.

“A chronically stable interface with the body’s nervous system is necessary to couple partial sensory sensation in prosthetics with motor control. This problem will not be solved entirely by a team of materials scientists. However, we believe that an eventual successful device for chronic microstimulation will be based on combining a range of thin-film and polymeric materials that are compatible with reliable microfabrication techniques,” Voit stated in a press release. “In our experience, this platform for device fabrication allows for the flexibility required to meet the demands of the electrophysiologist and surgeon, while surviving the aggressive mechanical and chemical environment of the nervous system.”

As part of the 3-year grant, Voit will receive mentoring and support from industry and Department of Defense contacts to develop his research.

“This award is as much a tribute to the mentoring, facilities and environment at an institution that gives young faculty the opportunity to attempt to tackle interesting problems,” Voit stated. “The investments UT Dallas has made … allowed me to be confident in proposing the neural research that DARPA has chosen to fund.”

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