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A Dissolvable Brain Implant? Scientists Create Biodegradable Device the Size of a Grain of Rice

brain implantIt’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the great impact that new technologies are making in the world of medicine. The last post was about 3D printed medicine way back in August! So what new advances have been made to make people healthier or at least combat sickness?

Well, as it turns out, the scientists have been busy. They’ve created a surgical implant—no bigger than a grain of rice—which measures a patient’s temperature and blood pressure for several days before dissolving harmlessly in body fluids! Researchers are saying that this biodegradable device could be implanted into the brain or other vital organs to monitor a patient’s medical recovery without the need for cumbersome wires or operations to remove the implant once its job is done.

“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,” says Rory Murphy, a neurosurgeon at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri. “[This allows] 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.”

According to the Independent, tests have shown that the disappearing implant can monitor slight variations in the intracranial pressure between the brain and skull as well as measuring temperature in this sensitive part of the body before dissolving completely. Researchers say that similar, absorbable devices that do not need to be retrieved from patients could soon be tested to see if they can be used as alternatives to existing instruments for measuring important health markers.

Monitoring changes inside the body can be crucial to improving a patient’s health and recovery. Existing implants are often cumbersome and pose the risk of immune rejection and infections caused by repeated surgery. “The devices commonly used today are based on technology from the 1980s. They’re large, they’re unwieldy, and they have wires that connect to monitors in the intensive care unit. They give accurate readings, and they help, but there are ways to make them better,” says Dr. Murphy.

And so, the researchers have created this dissolvable implant that can be “recycled” within a human body. But how does it work? The technology behind the implant, published in the journal Nature (http://www.nature.com/index.html), incorporates a dissolvable silicon material mixed with a harmless polymer called poly lactic-co-glycolic acid. Tests showed the material can completely dissolve in saline solution after a few days.

“The benefit of these new devices is that they dissolve over time, so you don’t have something in the body for a long time period, increasing the risk of infection, chronic inflammation and even erosion through the skin or the organ in which it’s placed,” says Dr. Murphy.

John Rogers, professor of material science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sums it up quite nicely: “This is a new class of electronic biomedical implants. These kinds of systems have potential across a range of clinical practices, where therapeutic or monitoring devices are implanted or ingested, perform a sophisticated function, and then reabsorb harmlessly into the body after their function is no longer necessary.”

Think of what else scientists can create to treat patients without the use of bulky wires and potentially life-threatening surgeries. Today it’s a brain implant the size of a grain of rice. Tomorrow—who knows!

Photo credit: Independent 

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