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Thursday, September 27, 2012
Silk-cocooned electronic devices do medical task, then dissolve in body
A water droplet dissolves an electronics circuit. Researchers have created a tiny device sealed in silk from cocoons that do their work, then dissolve in the bodies of lab mice.
NEW YORK — Scientists have succeeded in creating tiny medical devices sealed in silk cocoons that did the work they were designed for, then dissolved in the bodies of lab mice.
The new work is aimed at making devices that dissolve, without the need for surgical removal or the risk of long-term side effects.
It’s an early step in a technology that may hold promise for both medicine and disposal of electronic waste.
The U.S.-funded research was reported online in the journal Science. CREATES HEAT
In the experiment, the devices — which look like tiny computer chips — were designed to generate heat, a potential strategy for fighting infection after surgery by killing germs, said John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, an author of the study.
The devices worked in the mice for more than a week, until their silk coatings dissolved enough for bodily fluids to erode key parts of the devices. After three weeks, the tiny gadgets had basically disappeared. FUTURE HOPES
Someday for people, similar devices might be programmed to monitor the body and release drugs accordingly, or produce electric current to accelerate bone healing, Rogers said.
The researchers used the protective cocoon envelope because silk can be processed to stay intact for varying periods of time — from seconds to weeks and potentially for years, he said. The device’s circuitry itself was built from other materials that degrade in the body, such as magnesium and silicon.
Apart from medicine, the technology offers a way to cut down on electronic waste if portable consumer devices could be made with decomposing components, the researchers wrote.
And there are other potential uses, Rogers suggested. For example, such devices could be scattered near a chemical spill to monitor things like chemical concentrations without any need to retrieve them later.