University of Illinois Researchers Unveil Bioresorbable Brain Implants

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A team of researchers from the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, along with neurologists from Washington University School of Medicine and engineers from Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Northwestern University, and Korea University have published findings in Nature on new silicon-based implantable sensors that monitor temperature and brain swelling, but that do not need to be removed afterwards because each component is made from materials that are naturally broken down by the body over time.

The new sensors are smaller than a grain of rice and are made of dissolvable silicon that operate normally for a few weeks, and then are broken down and absorbed naturally by the body. The sensors monitor key biometrics and then wirelessly transmit the information to a receiver implanted just under the skin but over the skull. Researchers say the new sensors could initially replace traditional hardwired sensors used to monitor traumatic brain injury patients, but hope that they will eventually be developed to support a wider range of monitoring needs in other organ systems. Lead investigator John Rogers, who runs the Fredrick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, explains ,"These kinds of systems have potential across a range of clinical practices, where therapeutic or monitoring devices are implanted or ingested, perform a sophisticated function, and then resorb harmlessly into the body after their function is no longer necessary."

Currently, patients undergoing brain surgery or diagnosed with traumatic brain injury are given hardwired implanted sensors to monitor pressure on the brain. These sensors are effective, but can lead to infections, inflammation, and potential hemorrhaging. The sensors also need to be removed once the patient has fully recovered, requiring an additional procedure with risks of its own. By replacing the current equipment with a small, wireless implant that naturally degrades in the body, researchers hope to reduce the risks associated with monitoring recovery of these patients. After developing the sensors, researchers implanted them in rats and compared results with data captured from traditional sensors. They report that the two perform comparably in rats, and hope to move on to human trials next.


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