An international team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania are currently testing a new line of medical devices that can be implanted into the brain without ever needing to be removed. These new implants are designed using special materials that are bioresorbable, meaning they are able to be absorbed harmlessly into the body. According to the research team’s recent article in Nature, these new devices could usher in a new era of medical brain tech:
Bioresorbable silicon electronics technology offers unprecedented opportunities to deploy advanced implantable monitoring systems that eliminate risks, cost and discomfort associated with surgical extraction [...] Comparative studies show sensor performance comparable to standard clinical systems and reduced tissue reactivity relative to conventional clinical electrocorticography (ECoG) electrodes.
Current bioresorbable medical technology is limited mostly to cardiac stents or disolvable sutures for closing internal incisions, so in one way these new bioresorbable devices represent a new direction in medical technology. These implants are composed of thin layers of silicon and molybdenum, and are only a few hundreds of microns (μm) thick. A human hair or coat of paint, by comparison, are on average 100 μm thick. So far, these devices have been tested on rats, where they were used to record neuroelectric activity and induce seizure-like epileptic spikes. One device was left in a rat’s brain for 30 days to record EEG patterns with no lasting damage done to the rat once the device had dissolved.
Because the brain is such a sensitive area of the body, any surgical intervention has the ability to cause irreparable damage. Since these new bioresorbable don’t need to be removed after use, however, the risk of related surgical complications drops dramatically. Potential applications include post-surgery monitoring, aiding in controlling neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, or even in new neural interfaces that are also being developed. This new technology is not limited to the brain, however, as the article states that these same bioresorbable devices can be used in cardiac, vascular, or orthopedic applications.
Soon, breakthroughs like these could lead to radical new directions in neuroscience or even body augmentation. Given that there are already groups calling for widespread approval of augmenting human bodies with digital technology, these types of new technologies might put us closer to realizing a transhuman future sooner than we thought.