We sought to develop a cervical spinal cord stimulator for the rat that is durable, stable, and does not perturb the underlying spinal cord.
We created a softening spinal cord stimulation (SCS) array made from shape memory polymer (SMP)-based flexible electronics. We developed a new photolithographic process to pattern high surface area titanium nitride (TiN) electrodes onto gold (Au) interconnects. The thiol-ene acrylate polymers are stiff at room temperature and soften following implantation into the body. Durability was measured by the duration the devices produced effective stimulation and by accelerated aging in vitro. Stability was measured by the threshold to provoke an electromyogram (EMG) muscle response and by measuring impedance using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS). In addition, spinal cord modulation of motor cortex potentials was measured. The spinal column and implanted arrays were imaged with MRI ex vivo, and histology for astrogliosis and immune reaction was performed.
For durability, the design of the arrays was modified over three generations to create an array that demonstrated activity up to 29 weeks. SCS arrays showed no significant degradation over a simulated 29 week period of accelerated aging. For stability, the threshold for provoking an EMG rose in the first few weeks and then remained stable out to 16 weeks; the impedance showed a similar rise early with stability thereafter. Spinal cord stimulation strongly enhanced motor cortex potentials throughout. Upon explantation, device performance returned to pre-implant levels, indicating that biotic rather than abiotic processes were the cause of changing metrics. MRI and histology showed that softening SCS produced less tissue deformation than Parylene-C arrays. There was no significant astrogliosis or immune reaction to either type of array.
Softening SCS arrays meet the needs for research-grade devices in rats and could be developed into human devices in the future.