Imagine a future where a wound, damaged nerves, and stunted bones can be tended to using a small electronic circuit that dissolves in the body after performing its necessary function. We’ve seen variations of such technology in a variety of science fiction and future-based TV shows and movies, but thanks to the work of scientists at the University of Illinois, such a device could be reality in the coming years.
Such a device does not yet exist, but substantial work towards that goal has already been performed by the researchers, of which mechanical engineer John Rogers is one member. Speaking about the various uses of such a device, said Rogers: “In each case, the device needs to function only for a time frame set by a healing process. As such, the ideal scenario is for the device to simply disappear afterward.”
Thus far, a biodegradable circuit that can harvest power and is remote controllable has been created, an important component in a future device that would completely dissolve in a certain period of time after serving its medical purpose. To achieve the biodegradability, the circuits are built from materials that are both water-soluble and compatible with a biological organism, such as magnesium and silk.
The circuits are remote-controllable via radio frequencies, which are picked up by a very small antenna and used to provide energy. A couple different versions of the biodegradable circuits have been created, with one that takes a few days to dissolve when exposed to water. Another, featured in the image above, is smaller and dissolves in a couple hours.
It has been suggested that power is the potential Achilles heel of such technology, with the antennas possibly being too small in the current designs to provide adequate power from radio frequencies once implanted. Such an issue can be ironed out after testing, however, which is now being conducted using implants in mice. So far, no adverse side effects, such as swelling, have resulted from the implants.