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Dissolvable Electronics. (Wow!)

I’m out in San Francisco this week for Photonics West, and, while on the elliptical in my hotel the other day, I caught up on some of my reading.

One of the most interesting articles I came across was from Ars Technica on dissolvable electronics, which someday soon will be used for health monitoring.

“The transient sensors, which can measure pressure, temperature, pH, motion, flow, and potentially specific biomolecules, stand to permanently improve patient care, researchers said. With a wireless, dissolving sensor, doctors could ditch the old versions that require tethering patients to medical equipment and performing invasive surgery to remove, which adds risks of infections and complications to already vulnerable patients.” (Source: Ars Technica)

The initial designs are for use in the brain, but over time there are likely to be many other applications – tissues, other organs.  The electronics – which are incredibly tiny – “contain biodegradable silicon-based piezoresistive sensors, which change their electrical resistance with slight bending, surrounded by more silicon, magnesium, and a dissolvable copolymer, poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA), which is already used in medical devices.”

Dissolvable molybdenum wires are used to transmit data to a “wireless data transmission device that can sit on the outside of the body, just on top of the skin.”

Based on the coatings used, the implants will last a couple of post-surgical days, or longer as needed. While they’re in use, they’ll be monitored to determine whether they’re causing any inflammation.

So far, the research has been confined to rat brains, so the researchers will now be moving up the food chain (animal version) to larger animals, then on to clinical trials before these are widely introduced. Researchers are hoping that human testing will be conducted within the next three to four years.

With so many flashy consumer gadgets out there, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the many really profound uses that emerging technology is put to. Many of these are in the medical arena. I do my bit to stay in good health, which is why I was on that elliptical to begin with. But you never know when you or someone in your family will be able to benefit from the tremendous medical breakthroughs coming, courtesy of exciting new technology.