Here Today, Gone When the Job is Done


By: Mari Gold

Are you annoyed by how quickly your electronic devices become obsolete? Now, deliberate obsolescence appears likely to have great medical value.

A new breed of tiny devices known as “transient electronics” has been created by biomedical engineers at Tufts University, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The devices are made to perform different functions, such as monitor vital signs or deliver medications, but only for a predetermined amount of time, after which they “disappear.” Made from super-thin silk-silicon, they dissolve in a small amount of body fluid and are then reabsorbed into the body. Consequently, they avoid the issues associated with conventional implantable devices, such as potentially undesirable long-term effects or the need for painful, costly surgical removal. In one test application, researchers implanted such a device in rodents to monitor and prevent postsurgical infection. Once the job was completed, the device dissolved.

“The electronics are designed to be stable and fully functional during their lifetime,” says Dr. John Rogers, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s the lifetime itself that sets them apart from the devices that are [currently] being used.”

There are already many medical uses in the works for the devices, and additional applications are likely to be considered as research is further refined.




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