A new experimental class of medical device performs the task for which it’s designed and then dissolves. According to the Associated Press, scientists have created the tiny gadgets and inserted them into the bodies of lab mice wrapped in tiny silk cocoons, where they performed their functions and disappeared.
The devices, which look like tiny computer chips, were studied by a team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Study author John Rogers told the AP that they were created to generate heat as part of a post-surgery infection fighting strategy.
In an interview with the National Science Foundation, Rogers said, “We’re trying to bridge that gap, from silicon, wafer-based electronics to biological, ’tissue-like’ electronics, to really blur the distinction between electronics and the body.”
Doctors already use an array of medical devices to dispense medications, generate electrical pulses and perform other functions in patients’ bodies. The new implants would eliminate the need for follow-up removal procedures as well as reducing the risk of side effects associated with the long-term presence of foreign objects.
Silk coatings are used because silk can be manipulated to dissolve inside the body at different rates, depending upon how long the device is required by the patient. Over time, the protective covering dissolves away, leaving components of the medical device vulnerable to the body’s immune system, which gradually eats it away. A few weeks later, the tiny gadgets have essentially disappeared.
Study author Rogers said that in addition to monitoring conditions in the body and controlling the release of drugs into the system, the gadgets could be used to monitor conditions around chemical or industrial spills to monitor conditions without further damaging the affected environments.
Christopher Bettinger of Carnegie Mellon University, a researcher of biodegradable electronics called the University of Illinois study a “remarkable achievement.” Researchers hope that the new discoveries will have applications beyond medicine and into technology, particularly with regards to how we dispose of electronics waste.
Watch video about John Rogers and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign team’s research, embedded via the National Science Foundation, below: