JAN 22, 2016 10:41 AM PST

The Dissolvable Electronic Brain Sensor

Tiny electronic implants monitor brain injury, then melt away
Traumatic brain injuries kill about 50,000 Americans every year. To minimize mortality risks and speed up recovery time, the injured brain has to be under strict clinical surveillance. This often involves complicated monitors that are as difficult to attach as they are to detach from the patient. However, these brain monitors of the” 1980s” may soon be replaced by a new class of dissolvable biomedical sensors.

The newly developed sensors are tiny, the size of a postage stamp. Yet, this is a case where size absolutely does not reflect power. The tiny implantable device is able to wirelessly report the intracranial pressure and temperature of the brain continuously for days. Physicians are then able to determine whether additional treatments are necessary to prevent further brain injuries.

But what researchers are even more excited about is the fact that the sensor is completely biodegradable and will simply melt away in the body in a few days time. The genius behind this disappearing act lies in the extremely thin sheets of silicone on which the miniscule sensors are built. Silicone is naturally Tiny brain sensorsbiodegradable and melts away completely and harmlessly in the body’s own fluids.

In lab trials, the team demonstrated the sensors dissolved completely in a saline bath within a few days. Next they tested the implant inside rats. In the live animal model, the new sensor gave accurate pressure and temperature readings that were comparable to readings from conventional monitoring devices. Performance aside, the research team also reported that the sensor was completely biocompatible and also melted away as they had expected.

As part of a new class of electronic biomedical implants, this new implant is able to perform highly sophisticated functions and then be completely reabsorbed into the body leaving very few, if any, unwanted traces. This offers many benefits to many areas of clinical care. First, this system would eliminate the reliance on large, unwieldy monitors that are not only difficult to operate, but can also increase the risks for bacterial infections. Second, because the device is completely biocompatible, host immune responses to foreign implants would be bypassed. And third, the ability of the implant to dissolve away after use would remove the need for any follow-up extraction surgeries.

Overall, the dissolvable sensor dramatically improves the ease with which physicians can accurately monitor the brain following a traumatic brain injury. In addition to this, the device also has the potential to reduce or even eliminate many health complications and distress associated with conventional monitoring methods.

The sensor will next be tested in a clinical trial for performance and biocompatibility. But thinking beyond the brain, the researchers hope the device can be adapted to suit many other clinical needs for various other organs.

The ultimate strategy is to have a device that you can place in the brain - or in other organs in the body - that is entirely implanted, intimately connected with the organ you want to monitor and can transmit signals wirelessly to provide information on the health of that organ, allowing doctors to intervene if necessary to prevent bigger problems. And then after the critical period that you actually want to monitor, it will dissolve away and disappear. -Dr. Rory K. J. Murphy, study author from Washington University School of Medicine.

The research was led by Dr. Wilson Z. Ray from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. Rory K. J. Murphy from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. Their research was published in the journal Nature.
Additional source: MNT
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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