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Medical implants dissolve upon command

16 Oct 2014  | R. Colin Johnson

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Take dissolvable medical stitches a few levels higher and what do you get? Dissolvable medical implants. A team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's department of materials science and engineering's Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory has found a way to make silicon dissolve inside the body, allowing a unique kind of temporary medical implant.

"Silicon can, in fact, dissolve in biofluids, sea water, and many forms of ground water. The rates are exceptionally slow (nanometres a day)," John Roger, professor at UIUC, stated. "Made with ultrathin silicon (from 20-100nm) they can dissolve in a few weeks, at physiological conditions."

Transient electronic sensors

A new generation of transient electronic sensors (middle, white) function in water but dissolve when they are no longer needed. (Source: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

As they stand now, the medical implants can be inserted to monitor a condition or even deliver a drug or electrical stimulation, such as for pain mitigation or deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease, for a certain amount of time determined by how thick the silicon substrate and over coating is made. However, the researchers want to be able to send a signal in when they are done with the implant, so that it starts dissolving on command.

"Our current work focuses on creating possibilities for actively triggered dissolution," Rogers noted. "We submitted a manuscript on this concept last week."

Dissolvable implants self-destruct in bodily fluids

Implant that has been ordered to self-destruct dissolves in bodily fluids such as dissolvable stitches. (Source: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

There are also many other applications for "green" electronics, which otherwise just accumulate in landfills. The military also has ideas on how to use 'green' electronics as an ultimate form of hardware-based data security. "Much of our funding comes from DARPA," Rogers stated. "The military has many concepts for using this type of technology, all of which are currently classified."

Other practical applications include bioresorbable devices to reduce infection after surgery, brain monitors to aid rehabilitation or head traumas, electrical stimulation to accelerate bone growth, and programmable drug delivery.

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