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Small, electronic implants that are able to dissolve in the body may help doctors monitor the patients’ brains in the future, according to a new research in rats.
Researchers said that similar devices could also be used one day in other parts of the body, to help carry medicine to a specific location.
Although electronic implants are currently used to treat a lot of things form brain injuries to heart attacks, they can increase the risk of infection in patients who receive them. They can set off immune responses that will ultimately lead to the devices’ surgical removal, according to researchers.
That is why in the new research – published Monday (Jan. 18) in the journal Nature – scientists have developed new implants that monitor brain activity, and which are ‘resorbed’ by the body a few weeks after the implantation.
John Rogers, senior author of the study and a materials scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that the new implantable electronic device (with complete bioresorbability) will help improve the health outcomes for many patients.
Each of the devices – which are silicon-based sensors – is about 0.2 inches long (six millimetres). They are made of biodegradable sheets of silicon that are very thin. According to the researchers, the silicon sheets can detect and record temperature and pressure – things that have to be monitored after a brain injury.
The sensors are connected to head-mounted devices through biodegradable wires made of molybdenum (a metallic element). The researchers explained that both the wires and the sensor would eventually dissolve in the cerebrospinal fluid – the fluid in the brain and spine.
Currently, the devices can only operate for three days – as shown in the experiments in rats. However, the researchers are now working on improving them to operate for a few weeks at a time, according to Rogers.
Rory Murphy, co-author of the study and a neurosurgeon at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said that the ultimate goal is to have a device that can be placed in various organs in the body (including the brain) to transmit signals and provide information on the health of the organ.
External transmitters could still cause infections, which is why the researchers have developed an implantable transmitter the size of a postage stamp (0.6 inches or 1.5 centimetres). Even though the body can now only dissolve 85 percent of the transmitter, Rogers said that the implant could be made completely biodegradable in the near future.
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