News / Health

Scientists Develop Vanishing Medical Device

Jessica Berman
They're called "biocompatible electronics"  - tiny medical implants designed to dissolve into the body's tissues after they have done their work.  Such devices may some day be used for fighting post-surgical infections, speeding bone development and a host of other medical applications.  

Unlike conventional medical implants such as heart valves or hip replacements that are designed to last a lifetime, “transient electronics” are made with tiny, ultra-thin silicon chips, containing magnesium electrodes, that completely melt away when they have served their function.  They're now being developed by a team of researchers at the University of Illinois, Northwestern University in Illinois and Tufts University in Massachusetts.

John Rogers is a University of Illinois engineering professor who leads the development team.  Rogers envisions a number of medical applications for the new devices, which combine microchips with so-called nano-membranes that slowly melt when exposed to water or biofluids.

“One example of that kind of device is in an applique, a thin film device that goes into the body at the site of a surgical incision to provide thermal therapy that can eliminate bacteria that would otherwise cause infection," said Rogers.

Rogers says the chip, which can be controlled wirelessly, is packaged in silk gathered from silkworm cocoons.  Researchers can alter the structure of the silk, Rogers says, to pre-set how long the silicon chips last - from minutes to days, weeks or even longer.

Rogers and colleagues conducted experiments in which they slipped the silicon wafers into surgical incisions on mice.  Rogers says the dissolvable chips, only a few tens of nanometers thick, heated the animals’ wounds for two weeks - just long enough to prevent infection and for healing to begin.

“And in that type of time regime, it’s advantageous for the device to simply disappear," he said.

Scientists examining the mice a few weeks later saw little sign of infection and only a faint residue of the silicon wafer at the wound sites.

Rogers says the device's electrodes are made of magnesium, a naturally fluid-soluble material. The amount of magnesium on a single chip is less than most people consume every day through their diets or in a multi-vitamin.

The biodegradable technology might some day have a wide range of applications - from environmental monitoring to creating disposable and non-polluting consumer electronic products.  But for now, researchers are focusing on the medical possibilities, including heart, brain and muscle activity monitors, as well as targeted drug delivery devices.

An article by John Rogers and colleagues on the development of a transient electronic medical device is published in the journal Science.  

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid