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October 02, 2012

Dazzling New Medical Devices in Skin, Now Including Electronics

First there was artificial skin, created in the lab, yet able to be incorporated into our own skin, which holds out hope for victims with severe burns. Then there were skin tattoos to monitor vital signs.

But now, there is the group of chemists and engineers reporting in the journal Science, about a device placed in the body that breaks down after a desired duration of use, suitable for healing wounds after surgery to prevent infection, according to a story by Audrey Quinn.

As she reported on a story written by James Gallagher of BBC News, “ultra-thin electronics that dissolve inside the body” could be used for a range of medical roles.

The really neat thing? The devices can “melt away” once their job is done, Gallagher noted.

“The technology has already been used to heat a wound to keep it free from infection by bacteria,” he wrote. Silicon and magnesium oxide comprise the substance, placed in a protective layer of silk.

Because silicon is water-soluble, thin sheets of it can dissolve in as little as a week, according to Gallagher. “The arrangement of crystallized silk around the silicon determines how long it will last. The devices function the same as other body electronics, but don’t require further surgery for removal,” he added.

Such material in a 64-pixel digital camera that can take pictures inside the body has already been tested, and the scientists have also experimented with dissolvable temperature sensors and solar cells, according to Quinn.

I first heard about cameras you could swallow that would dissolve in or be eliminated by your body for colonoscopies – far less invasive than how they’re currently done.

Ultimately it passes through your body as waste. 

The new technology uses a remote-controlled capsule camera to scan the inside of the colon and may one day be an alternative to colonoscopy, a study last year suggested. According to a story by Jennifer Goodwin, researchers from Japan’s Osaka Medical College reported that they had developed a “self-propelled capsule endoscope” that can be inserted into the anus and driven through the colon via remote control and a magnetic field, capturing images along the way.

The jury is still out on this, however, as it doesn’t always detect problems, and if a growth is found, a regular colonoscopy must still be performed.

Edited by Braden Becker
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