January 18, 2016

Tiny electronic implants monitor brain injury, then melt away

An artist’s rendering of the brain sensor and wireless transmitter
monitoring a rat’s brain. Image by Julie McMahon

(January 18, 2016)  A new class of small, thin electronic sensors can monitor temperature and pressure within the skull – crucial health parameters after a brain injury or surgery – then melt away when they are no longer needed, eliminating the need for additional surgery to remove the monitors and reducing the risk of infection and hemorrhage.

Similar sensors can be adapted for postoperative monitoring in other body systems as well, the researchers say. Led by John A. Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Wilson Ray, a professor of neurological surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the researchers published their work in the journal Nature.

The small sensor connects to an embeddable wireless transmitter that lies on top
of the skull. Photo courtesy of John A. Rogers

“This is a new class of electronic biomedical implants,” said Rogers, who directs the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at Illinois. “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.”

After a traumatic brain injury or brain surgery, it is crucial to monitor the patient for swelling and pressure on the brain. Current monitoring technology is bulky and invasive, Rogers said, and the wires restrict the patent’s movement and hamper physical therapy as they recover. Because they require continuous, hard-wired access into the head, such implants also carry the risk of allergic reactions, infection and hemorrhage, and even could exacerbate the inflammation they are meant to monitor.

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