Feb 12, 2018,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Biodegradable sensors could help doctors detect serious illnesses

Researchers at a US university have perfected a pressure sensor which, once implanted in a patient, can provide doctors with crucial data and then simply decompose inside the body. The invention could be used to treat cases of glaucoma, bladder cancer and bone grafts.

Biodegradable sensors which can detect the pressure being exerted in different zones of the body where they have been implanted could soon be available to doctors. This tiny innovation promises to be particularly useful for bone grafts, the introduction of medical implants or for surgical stitching, and will likely prove to be a far more efficient solution than the systems that came before it.


Decomposes in the human body after use


These are the claims made in a study published on 16 January in the PNAS scientific journal by researchers from the University of Connecticut in the USA, who are behind the revolutionary detection system. The engineers state that, unlike previous versions of sensors, their system contains no potentially toxic matter and can remain for as long as necessary in the patient’s body. And when they are no longer of use, the miniature devices simply dissolve.

This removes the need for an extra invasive operation which merely adds to the recovery time and creates a new risk of infection – a crucial element according to Thanh Duc Nguyen, who is the main author of the study cited by the News Medical website. "Medical sensors are often implanted in the heart of organs or tissues," the researcher explains, "and that can cause supplementary damage when you come to remove them from the body."

Tests on mice prove conclusive

The prototype developed by the US specialists measures just five millimetres in width and length, and is a mere 200 microns thick. A trial version was implanted in two mice, in the abdomen of the first and along the back of the second. The first sensor provided data on the breathing of the mouse by detecting contractions of the diaphragm, before decomposing after four days. The other mouse suffered a slight inflammation which went away after four weeks.

The materials used in the composition of this flexible sensor have been certified as safe by the US food and drug administration. The engineers meanwhile believe that in time, their device will make it easier to examine patients suffering for example from bladder cancer, glaucoma or heart disease, as its sensitivity can be adjustable as required, and can measure the physiological pressure being applied behind the eye or in certain parts of the brain.


Extended product life?


The current system still needs to be linked to a signal amplifier for it to work, and Nguyen and his team are currently working on a sensor which can be implanted and then decompose fully in the human body. The engineers are also studying various methods to extend the product life of the device.


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