Researchers Create Electronics That Can Dissolve in Your Brain

Dissolving, implantable electronic devices could take bio-augmentation to a whole new level.

5. 10. 16 by Todd Jaquith
Sciepro/Getty Images
Image by Sciepro/Getty Images

Noninvasive Implants

Imagine brain implants that completely dissolve and fade away after a period of time.

That’s just what a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed. They’ve created sensors, made of layers of molybdenum and silicon, that can monitor brain signals (and even deliver signals), and then melt away without a trace.

The research was published online in the journal Nature Materials, and represents a great forward leap in biosensing technology. According to lead researcher Brian Litt, MD, it bypasses “the risks, cost, and discomfort associated with surgery to extract current devices used for post-operative monitoring.”

The devices will be especially useful for mapping the neurophysiology and neural patterns of certain mental and neurological disorders—for instance, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and epilepsy. Further useful applications will include post-operative monitoring, and the placement of devices involved in heart and brain surgery.


Implantable Chips

Illustration of the “bioresorbable” electrodes implanted in a rat’s brain. Credit: Ki Jun Yu et al./Nature Materials

Meanwhile, Chinese scientists have created a very interesting dissolvable device of their own—a “memristor,” or memory resistor, composed of egg albumen protein lacquered onto silicon film, with electrodes of magnesium and tungsten. Their research was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Sciences.

Tests have shown that the device’s performance is comparable to other, more conventional memristors, and can store information for 10,000 seconds without experiencing deterioration. The chip can work for three months in dry conditions, and in wet conditions the albumen and electrodes break down in 2 to 10 hours. The remaining materials dissolve after about three days, leaving insignificant traces behind.

The importance of such a device is that it has applications, as one can imagine, in bio-augmentation, and in the production of “smarter” medical devices with a limited but effective computing power. And yet, with its organic, biodegradable components, it doesn’t constitute an invasive, foreign body, and can readily dissolve after a short period.

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