John Rogers just may be the James Brown of stretchable electronics, because he’s easily the hardest working man in the business. As head of the Rogers Research Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, time and time again he’s demonstrated his showmanship with electronic tattoos and dissolving medical implants.
Now he’s back with another hit: an electronic heart sock. Actually, it’s more of a silicone sheath that could be slipped over organs to monitor health and treat disease. While this isn’t Rogers’ first foray into bendable sensors, it is the first stretchy implant to cover an entire organ.
Rogers and his group embedded 68 sensors into a sheet of silicone and stretched it over a 3D-printed replica of a rabbit’s heart. Next, researchers transferred the sheath to a real rabbit’s heart that was beating outside the animal’s body. The group used the replica heart to get a perfect fit, because too much pressure on the real organ could interfere with the heartbeat’s natural rhythm.
Various imaging methods were used to gather data from the sock’s sensors, showing the device could accurately detect biometric measurements like temperature, electrical activity and pH levels in different areas of the organ.
Rogers believes the device could one day be used as an alternative to pacemakers, since the sock completely envelops the organ and can be designed to include electrodes that stimulate the heart. Flashing more chops, the group is also working to make the sheath and its electronics dissolve when the implant is no longer needed.
The biggest hurdle to overcome will be powering such a device, though embedded micro batteries and wireless power transmission are possible solutions. Next, the group wants to adapt the system for other organs. “Whether you exploit it in full 3D or not, being able to curve around a surface is very valuable,” Rogers told New Scientist. “The idea could be applied to any organ.”