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Flexible, Implanted Devices May Reshape Medicine

May 14, 2014 03:41 PM EDT
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implanted electronic device developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas
Researchers behind a new, groundbreaking study have developed electronic devices that become soft when implanted inside the body and can grip 3-D objects, such as large tissues, nerves and blood vessels - reshaping the field of medicine.
(Photo : University of Texas at Dallas)

Researchers behind a new, groundbreaking study have developed electronic devices that become soft when implanted inside the body and can grip 3-D objects, such as large tissues, nerves and blood vessels - reshaping the field of medicine.

These biologically adaptive, flexible transistors may hold the key to learning more about the inner workings of the body.

The study, published in the journal Advanced Materials, is the first to show that transistors can change shape while still maintaining their electronic properties after they are implanted in the body.

"Scientists and physicians have been trying to put electronics in the body for a while now, but one of the problems is that the stiffness of common electronics is not compatible with biological tissue," Jonathan Reeder, graduate student and lead author, said in a statement. "You need the device to be stiff at room temperature so the surgeon can implant the device, but soft and flexible enough to wrap around 3-D objects so the body can behave exactly as it would without the device. By putting electronics on shape-changing and softening polymers, we can do just that."

To test its effectiveness, researchers implanted the device in rats, and found that it eventually morphed with the living tissue and still functioned electronically.

The rigid device becomes soft when heated, and outside the body it is primed for the position it will take inside the body.

Shape memory polymers are the critical factors to making this device work. The polymers respond and adapt to the body's environment and become less rigid when they're implanted. Also, the electronic devices in the transistors are built with layers that include thin, flexible electronic foils.

"In our device design, we are getting closer to the size and stiffness of precision biologic structures, but have a long way to go to match nature's amazing complexity, function and organization," Dr. Walter Voit, who was involved in the study, noted.

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