An MSU Neuroengineer is Studying Octopuses to Build Better Prosthetics

Plus, a U-M science major builds a Chrome extension that reports domestic abuse and a group of scientists create a nanoparticle that can eat through deadly plaques
Photo: IStock

Here’s a look at what researchers are studying and working on in the mitten state.

Studying octopuses to build better prosthetics

Michigan State University neuroscientist and neuroengineer Galit Pelled received a $2.35 million grant this spring from the National Institutes of Health to study the complex movements of octopuses. The goal is to understand how they control their tentacles and then use that knowledge to build “smart prosthetics” that can be controlled by the brain. Pelled and her team are using electrodes to study the impulses that dictate the octopus’ movements, which are tracked and analyzed by artificial intelligence software and waterproof video cameras. Each octopus tentacle has an axial nerve, much like a spinal cord, with a large range of motion. Pelled says her work may someday improve the lives of people who have lost limbs.

A video game that reports domestic abuse

Amelia “Mimi” Rave, a computer science major at the University of Michigan, is creating a downloadable Google Chrome extension that looks like a game but is actually a way for users to alert authorities about a dangerous home situation. The rising senior expected the tool to be ready in August. The game, inconspicuously named CoMude, will include prompts that ask users questions about their home lives. If answers indicate signs of abuse or neglect, authorities will receive a notice letting them know where the user is based on their IP address.

Nanoparticles that feast on deadly plaques

Bryan Smith, a biomedical engineering professor at Michigan State University, is among a group of scientists who created a nanoparticle that can eat through plaques that cause heart attacks. The particle, dubbed Trojan Horse, engulfs dead or diseased material, reducing the amount of plaque. The goal is to use the nanoparticle as a future treatment for atherosclerosis, an arterial disease and a leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers published a study on the Trojan Horse’s effectiveness in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Smith has filed a provisional patent and will begin marketing it later this year. The next step is to test the nanoparticle in animals and people.