(Image: John A. Rogers/ University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Dissolvable IoT brain sensors could aid patient recovery

A team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Illinois have developed ecological implants which could be used to monitor patients’ brains without the need for invasive surgery.

In intensive care units around the world, patients with severe brain trauma require close monitoring to keep track of the temperature and pressure inside the skull. Armed with this information doctors are better able to prevent further injury. Although there are existing methods of retrieving this data, they require invasive surgery, and the implantation of devices which need to be removed at a later date.

The research team, led by Dr Wilson Ray and Dr Rory Murphy, have developed wireless sensors made of polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) and silicone, which can transmit data, including levels of temperature and pressure, accurately from within the skull. The devices have been shown to dissolve completely in a saline solution after a few days.

The benefits of implants of this kind are varied. In an article published in science journal nature, researchers explain how these implants avoid triggering the immune response sometimes associated with biomedical solutions, while also not allowing possible infections to build up as a result of their presence.

Most import though, is the avoidance of invasive surgery, which, especially in patients with serious brain trauma, can often cause complications. Cumbersome wires are substituted for sensors the size of a grain of rice, and, because they dissolve in a matter of days, there’s no need to schedule potentially dangerous surgery to remove them.

It’s expected that this technology can be used in different procedures with different organs. Dr Murphy says that “The ultimate strategy is to have a device that you can place in the brain – or in other organs in the body – that is entirely implanted, intimately connected with the organ you want to monitor and can transmit signals wirelessly to provide information on the health of that organ, allowing doctors to intervene if necessary to prevent bigger problems.”

Biomedical engineering expert Professor Christopher James, senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, told Internet of Business that the wider applications of this technology have the potential to “truly revolutionise the way in which we can personalise measurements from the human body.” Dissolvable sensors mean that long term “there is no foreign body which can cause issues such as scarring and infection”.