What medical uses could injectable electronics enable?
The medical uses are potentially huge. "The technology could be used to help recover tissues following a brain injury or help manage diabetes by providing an intelligent solution for controlling insulin levels," says Collette Johnson, Medical Business Development Manager at Plextek Consulting. "Injectable electronics could also provide similar applications in chemical regulation of the brain for people with imbalances, as well as for individuals with growth hormone-related diseases. They could also be used to help control prosthetics by reacting to muscle motion."
In June the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University unveiled an injectable mesh that was able to detect electrical signals within mice brains, which could help scientists unravel how the brain's cells communicate. The mesh was injected through a needle just 0.1mm in diameter.
Could injected electronics be the next wave of wearable tech?
"Yes, technology is fast advancing to a stage where this is possible," says Kamat. "These types of treatments could be made feasible by microelectronics, which can be injected or delivered at desired locations in the body via minimally invasive procedures." For anyone squeamish about having things physically inserted under the skin, Kamat points out that ID tags have been implanted in pets for tracking purposes for years.
Researchers have been making progress in developing mind-controlled robotic limbs, with one patient's case reported in an issue of Science.
The patient has two tiny chips implanted in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), which controls the intention to move. That's in contrast to the handful of other paralyzed individuals who've been given similar implants. But in those cases, the chips have been placed in the brain's motor cortex, which is involved in the direct execution of movement. It's a key distinction, explained senior researcher Richard Andersen, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Signals sent from the brain's motor cortex are involved in the details of movement — like "lift the arm" and "extend the arm." Signals from the PPC are "higher level," and related to overall goals, such as "I want to pick up that cup." So devices implanted in the PPC could make it easier for people to control a robotic arm with their thoughts, and make those movements more fluid and natural, Andersen told HealthDay.