Setting the time factor for the electronics was a bit more complex. "The key word is control -- to make it disappear in a controlled way," Huang said. An electronic material that can dissolve in the body itself has very little control over how long it lasts. However, by putting an encapsulation layer made of magnesium oxide around the device, researchers could control the dissolution time "very precisely... between a few hours or as long as six months."
To create a device that can last a longer period of time, researchers design it with a thicker encapsulation layer. For a shorter dissolution period, the device will have either no layer or a very thin one. "We can control the magnesium oxide thickness," Huang said. However, even this is a delicate science, as "electronics have their own performance goals, which means you can't make this layer too thick" to impede on those, he added.
So far, researchers have tested one application of the transient electronic device, creating a device with a microheater that can be inserted into a wound to kill bacteria and aid with healing.
Aside from medical applications and the potential for consumer devices, these types of transient electronics can also benefit other scientific endeavors. "It can be used for environmental health monitoring, such as in an oil spill," allowing researchers to put a device inside seawater that can record conditions and then dissolve, leaving behind no impact on the environment, Huang said.
Huang, Omenetto, and their colleagues expect to continue their work for the next few years. Once there is approval from the Federal Drug Administration for use of the devices in medical applications, practitioners will have the go-ahead to use them on patients. However, this type of approval is likely many years down the line, according to Huang.
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.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.