Silicon-based invention is tiny, soft, wirelessly functional
In the campy 1966 science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage,” scientists miniaturize a submarine with themselves inside and travel through the body of a colleague to break up a potentially fatal blood clot. Micro-humans aside, imagine the inflammation that metal sub would cause.
Ideally, injectable or implantable medical devices should not only be small and electrically functional, they should be soft, like the body tissues with which they interact. Scientists from two UChicago labs set out to see if they could design a material with all three of those properties.
The material they came up with, the subject of a study published June 27 in Nature Materials, forms the basis of an ingenious light-activated injectable device that could eventually be used to stimulate nerve cells and manipulate the behavior of muscles and organs.
“Most traditional materials for implants are very rigid and bulky, especially if you want to do electrical stimulation,” said Bozhi Tian, an assistant professor in chemistry whose lab collaborated with that of neuroscientist Francisco Bezanilla, the Lillian Eichelberger Cannon Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
The new material, in contrast, is soft and tiny, composed of particles just a few micrometers in diameter—far less than the width of a human hair—that disperse easily in a saline solution so they can be injected. The particles also degrade naturally inside the body after a few months, so no surgery would be needed to remove them.