Photos show the dissolution of a biodegradable integrated circuit that can be used to apply treatment inside a human body. Researchers from Tufts University, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois-Urbana collaborated to create the device, which includes circuit components made of magnesium and silicone semiconductors, all on a thin film of silk. The research was funded by DARPA and the National Science Foundation.
Mind boggling technology to be sure. I can certainly see the application - any surgery is hard on the human body. We have experienced vast improvements with robotic surgery but there is still healing that must occur after any procedure. Avoiding the need for a second procedure would be a great thing - especially for the elderly. I personally would be leery of putting anything in the human body that it "didn't come with" and allow it to dissolve - I am not sure if we fully understand how substances affect the body on the celluar level - but that fear shouldn't stop the research - the reserach just needs to prove those fears are groundless. This technology has many challenges to meet but sounds very worthwhile...
While my initial response was "Wow, how cool", my next was I'm not going to trust a mechanical engineering expert on what materials are and are not considered safe inside the human body. I'm not sure I'd even trust a biologist or anyone else who hadn't already done the research on these materials with animal studies. There have been way too many incidents, such as medical implant materials that were supposed to be safe but weren't, or were supposed to last for decades, but didn't. The idea is great--the execution will take a lot of work to implement correctly.
I agree with both of you ladies that while this technology is certainly fascinating, it is hard right now to gauge the safety and impact on the human body. Obviously, it won't be used until it's been thoroughly tested and proven safe (at least we hope!). But then, think of silicone breast implants...they were thought safe as well but there have been a number of cases in which they've proven a health risk. It certainly remains to be seen how this will play out, but the idea of treating patients internally without excess waste and minimal invasion is certainly a worthwhile one for continued research, in my opinion.
I agree - I think part of the problem is that you get researchers who are specializing in one area that is their main area of concern and while they know that area of the body and do a good job, they don't have an understanding on how other areas of the body are affected...this stuff is incredibly complicated and there are always the possibility of different body chemistries responding differently to the same substance. These folks have their work cut out for them!
Yes, that is true, Nancy. The thing is, I think the best case scenario for this type of research is to have a medical doctor on board from the beginning to consult. I recently wrote another story in which a medical doctor specializing in the research field also was a part of the team developing the technology, so he could provide his opinion on the kinds of concerns a patient might have. Even then, of course, you never know until the technology is used. But it's certainly a good place to start.
Great point, Elizabeth - I would go for a team of doctors that specialized in different areas since multiple areas would be affected. Having them in place from the beginning could possibly prevent a lot of issues upfront. I think you are right on target!
Instead of a timed dissolve from a coating, maybe an external signal or chemical initiator? That way if the treatment needed to be extended or shortened due to the body's response, timing could be adjusted. This has nothing to do with the effect of the electronics on the body, dissolved or intact, just the trigger mechanism.
That's a good point. What if the body didn't respond as doctors expect to the treatment and needs more than the treatment is timed for? I am sure as researchers continue their work they will consider different scenarios and try to come up with methods that best suit them.
As all the circuits are made up of magnesium and silicon and wrapped in magnesium dioxide then such electronic pills definitely going to increase the amount of magnesium and sillicon over the optimum value for a normal person inside the user and that may have biological side effects. So thats may be the problem, i think.
That's also a good point, but I think the researchers tried to design the electronics to be safe for humans. Perhaps that will be something they need to consider as they develop these electronics further and begin to test them on human subjects. Thanks for your comment.
Good analogy, Cabe! Yes, I do think that indeed is the point. Get it in, make it work, and then get it out before it can do anything adverse. We shall see if they manage to accomplish this in the future, I guess!
How does the body process metal out of itself? My brother has some small metallic shrapnel that still bothers him. It refuses to move. I assume dissolvable electronics will not leave deposits throughout the body, but it will be decades before people will believe otherwise.
I think the idea is that the electronics are made of organic materials that can be processed quite easily because the body is used to them. Shrapnel, obviously, is quite a foreign object and would be intrusive to the body. The electronics are designed, in my understanding, to not be invasive and as natural as possible.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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