Researchers at Northwestern University (Chicago, USA) and Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, USA) have developed the first example of a bioresorbable electronic medicine: an implantable, biodegradable wireless device that speeds nerve regeneration and improves the healing of a damaged nerve.
The collaborators — materials scientists and engineers at Northwestern and neurosurgeons at Washington University — developed a device that delivers regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats after a surgical repair process, accelerating the regrowth of nerves in their legs and enhancing the ultimate recovery of muscle strength and control. The size of a dime and the thickness of a sheet of paper, the wireless device operates for about two weeks before naturally absorbing into the body.
The scientists envision that such transient engineered technologies one day could complement or replace pharmaceutical treatments for a variety of medical conditions in humans. This type of technology, which the researchers refer to as a “bioresorbable electronic medicine” provides therapy and treatment over a clinically relevant period of time and directly at the site where it’s needed, thereby reducing side effects or risks associated with conventional, permanent implants.
John A. Rogers, a pioneer in bio-integrated technologies and a co-senior author of the study commented:
“These engineered systems provide active, therapeutic function in a programmable, dosed format and then naturally disappear into the body, without a trace. This approach to therapy allows one to think about options that go beyond drugs and chemistry.”
While the device has not been tested in humans, the findings offer promise as a future therapeutic option for nerve injury patients. For cases requiring surgery, standard practice is to administer some electrical stimulation during the surgery to aid recovery. But until now, doctors have lacked a means to continuously provide that added boost at various time points throughout the recovery and healing process.
The research study also showed the device can work as a temporary pacemaker and as an interface to the spinal cord and other stimulation sites across the body. These findings suggest broad utility, beyond just the peripheral nervous system.