Imagine pain-relieving electronics devices that go into your body, work, and then disappear completely when they're done. This week scientists showed off advancements in what they're calling "transient electronics."
Materials scientists and biomedical engineers presented key advancements they'd made in creating disappearing devices at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans on Monday. Engineering professor John A. Rogers is leading the research with colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He's known for creating unusual electronics, including ones that can be printed on skin.
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"Bioresorbable" medical devices aren't necessarily new, but Rogers told the ACS that his team has made devices in the lab that have significant advantages over other ones. For a start, theirs can dissolve entirely in water or bodily fluids after a specific period of time without leaving behind a residue - sort of like modern sutures.
These electronic devices are made from special materials but perform like regular electronics. They're also wrapped in alternating layers that dissolve after specific periods of time. In the lab, Rogers' team implanted them in mice at risk for bacterial infection. The devices produced localized heat, according to the ACS, which prevented infection in the mice. Then the devices dissolved.
Instead of generating e-waste, such electronics could prevent it. In addition, self-destructing medical devices would avoid the need to have another surgical procedure to remove the thing. Beyond medicine, the devices could be sent out to monitor water quality without needing to be painstakingly gathered later.
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At the moment, Rogers and his colleagues are coming up with ways to mass-produce the devices instead of creating each individually in the lab. They're also working on ways to make the disappearing devices last longer while they function - for years instead of just weeks. This might be one of the few times when planned obsolescence actually helps.
Photo: Implantable electronics work for a while and then disappear completely. Credit: Beckman Institute, University of Illinois and Tufts University.