Electronic Implants

Dr. S.S.VERMA, Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal, Distt.-Sangrur (Punjab)-148 106


ELECTRONICS IMPLANTSFor every one of us, our body is a temple and that temple has to be preserved and undefined. Many of our body’s functions are electrical in nature, so an electronic implant placed close to a nerve fiber could deliver small pulses that provide a more-targeted therapy than drugs, which act globally. Researchers want to see if electronics can be used to treat diseases as a complement to drug therapy or as a replacement for the drug therapy. Electronic implants outside and inside the human body have tremendously been proved beneficial for the well being of mankind.   For a variety of reasons, an ever increasing number of people are willing to park electronics and other non-biological articles inside their bodies. We only know about few such general cases of electronic implants like, blood pressure monitor, sugar monitor, pace maker, heart bulbs, stunts etc. but there are many such devices whose number is growing with each passing day.  The principle reasons for body implants are medical – repairing bones, pacing heartbeats – that sort of thing. Further, the fastest growing use of body implants is also for reasons of cosmetics and convenience, take breast implants for example.

Bioelectronic devices surgically implanted on nerves interfere with and change the body’s own processes to make them function better. There are electronic implants which are being used today to treat many human body problems/diseases in order to help with a better living.  Tiny electronic implants treat arthritis, diabetes and obesity. In terms of technology, it’s helpful to distinguish body implants, first, from transplants and second, from synthetic organs. Transplants are also a form of ‘implantation’ but they involve purely biological body parts, in fact, duplicates of the body part being replaced, except they come from another individual. Synthetic organs, such as an artificial heart, are obviously body implants; the main distinction is that they are entire organs, typically very complex entities, whereas most body implants are either much simpler pieces of the body, such as a hip replacement, or electronic devices not intended to replace any existing body part. Most forms of implantation for the human body can also be applied to animals and eventually to plants. In fact, most of the technology now in use was developed and tested on animals.

Developmental status and applications

Scientists have successfully improved the thinking ability in primates through an electronic brain implant in the cerebral cortex. The decision making abilities of the primates were restored, and in many cases improved. Scientists believe this is the beginning of truly and permanently helping victims of brain trauma return to their previous selves.  It could also lead to hyper intelligent humans. Don’t be surprised if newborns start explaining quantum entanglement to their parents. In response to a public fascination with the potential for electronic implant hacking in recent years, researchers are developing a jamming transmitter that blocks unauthorized signals in an implant’s frequency. The jamming transmitter, also dubbed a shield, may be worn as jewelry, for example, and could work with new or even existing implants. It would decode and relay encrypted instructions sent by a device authorized to access the implant. Enabling the implant security system is a technology that allows the transmitter to send and receive signals in the same frequency band at the same time. This capability is not possible with ordinary wireless technology, according to the researchers. Another key advantage of the shied, according to the scientists, is that it handles encryption externally rather than being built into the implant itself. As described, the shield technology sounds promising and does, as noted, address concerns related to encryption handling during an emergency, which is essential when dealing with life-critical devices.

There have been initiatives all over the globe created in an attempt to beat blindness, but researchers are feeling fairly confident that their development is within a few years of being able to “restore partial sight to people who have slowly gone blind because of degenerative diseases of the retina. The bio-electronic implant, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, would actually sit behind the retina at the back of the eyeball, and images would be transmitted to the brain “via a connector the width of a human hair.”  The implant, which replicates the natural method by which the eye processes light and sends messages to the brain, enabled the patients to distinguish black from white and see the rough outlines of objects. Because the brain has to “relearn” how to see after years of total blindness, it is hoped that the patients’ vision could continue to improve further as they continue to use the chip. The technology can still be refined further and in future could be used to improve the sight of people with less severe retinal conditions such as macular degeneration. Previous eye implants have relied on external cameras, rather than the eye itself, to take in light before transmitting it into electrical signals.

RFID implants are also of proven value with Alzheimer’s patients and their use could be extended. A further direction, are “electronic tattoos” equipped with sensors that sit on the skin and can measure vital signs without invasive surgery, and transmit them via wireless technology. The tattoos have been a popular concept and are in commercial development, marketed for versatility — they can be applied on the body, as well as relatively casual use — they could be applied by patients themselves. The tattoos could also be applied to the head to read brainwaves, although the distance would limit accuracy. Implants for the brain could tell more, but represent the highest risk as well as reward. Should the body reject any material it could kill the patient.

The researchers and engineers came up with their invention hoping to address a core problem with medical implants – rejection. Looking to develop such technology, researchers set about to identify the right materials that would provide high performance, but also be biodegradable. Completely bio compatible with human tissues, these aptly named “transient electronics” are being considered a revolutionary new class of electronic devices.  Their development could lead to future medical implants that do not need surgical removal, as well as the creation of other environmental and consumer electronics that do not leave behind trash but dissolve into the environment. Magnesium, another integrated circuit material, was used as the device’s electrode. And for their most unique ingredient, the team utilized purified material from the cocoons of silk worms. Combining these ingredients, the team was able to construct a very tiny biomedical implant in mice, which was used to eliminate a common complication with many surgeries.

Flexible electronics today are deposited on plastic that stays the same shape and stiffness the whole time. Present, research comes from a different angle and demonstrates that we can engineer a device to change shape in a more biologically compatible way. The next step of the research is to shrink the devices so they can wrap around smaller objects and add more sensory components. A team of engineers today announced a discovery that could change the world of electronics forever. Called an “epidermal electronic system” (EES), it’s basically an electronic circuit mounted on your skin, designed to stretch, flex, and twist — and to take input from the movements of your body. EES is a leap forward for wearable technologies, and has potential applications ranging from medical diagnostics to video game control and accelerated wound-healing. It’s a huge step towards erasing the divide that separates machine and human. The electronic skin has already been shown to monitor patients’ health measurements as effectively as conventional state-of-the-art electrodes that require bulky pads, straps, and irritating adhesive gels. The fidelity of the measurement is equal to the best existing technology that is out there today, but in a very unique skin-like form. What’s more, the electronic skin’s unique properties allow it to do things that existing biometric sensors simply can’t touch.

Problems and concerns with implantation

While most people accept implants without scruple, but many forms of implants are highly controversial – particularly those involving the brain and the placement of monitors inside the body. Issues of privacy, security, and mind-control are always lurking behind any type of invasive procedure and especially for implantation of electronic devices. Within the next decade or two, the rapid growth of cosmetic and convenience implants will undoubtedly provoke a public backlash in many countries, if for no other reason than the practice of implantation for non-medical reasons seems unnatural. Question like how important are ‘body implants’ to the future of humanity are being asked. Are we on the way to becoming cyborgs? However, it’s not necessary to envision human cyborgs to wonder what the unlimited alteration of appearance by implantation might mean. Combine “Body Implants” with “Synthetic Organs” and “Genetic Modification” and these three impact areas can only augur potentially massive changes in the human animal – not in the relatively orderly and slow process of evolution, but with the speed and whim of cultural (or even fashion) trends. So far, implantable devices can store and transmit data and deliver drugs, or e-tattoos that use conventional chips rather than nanotechnology, but still have no practical way of actually being powered, other than bulky batteries or wires that run to a battery somewhere else, which is not exactly what we’re looking for with nano devices. Now, finally, someone has ditched the battery altogether, opening the door to wireless operated pacemakers, drug delivery systems, and internal body monitors.

With this power transfer method, we can miniaturize the last thing that makes medical devices so large. The breakthrough comes thanks to the use of what the researchers are calling “midfield powering.” Traditionally, wireless charging has used near field powering, which requires the power source and the thing being powered to be nearly touching, and advances have been made to allow wireless charging further away. Naturally, midfield powering occurs somewhere in between—perfect for having a power source outside the body and a device being powered in. To make it work, researchers placed a small power “plate” outside the body. The power source sends electricity into the body, and tiny coils inside the implantable device are able to passively receive the power inside, and potentially through the body. Researchers admit that the most dangerous thing about wireless charging is the health risk, but the power plate and associated sensor use about a thousand times less energy than previous designs, which were tissue-specific and could only exist very close to the skin’s surface. The team says that the level of power being pulsed through the body is “unlikely to have a meaningful impact on core body temperature” and that it falls within healthy radiation levels. “Future systems may also incorporate a small rechargeable battery to enable continuous operation without an externally worn power source. These capabilities should substantially increase the viability of implanting electronics in living systems.

 Biodegradable electronics

Public perception has been the main barrier — implants make people uncomfortable but the boundary that divides man from machine continues to dissolve — and in more literal ways than we might even imagine. The history of development in electronics has, up to now, focused on the development of devices that last forever, with stable performance. And now, with the introduction of transient electronics, researchers have taken the concept of dynamic, unobtrusive, and bio compatible technology to an entirely separate plane. Scientists today announced a new class of electronics that can disappear completely, resorbing into its environment after carrying out a designated task. The potential applications of this technology — dubbed “Transient Electronics” by its creators — are many, and they run the gamut from vanishing biological implants to environmentally friendly cell phones.

We want the device to serve a useful function, but after that function is completed, we want it to simply disappear by dissolution and resorption into the body. The basic idea is to fabricate implants that are not only electronically active but that can degrade over time. Researchers have created electronic devices that become soft when implanted inside the body and can deploy to grip 3-D objects, such as large tissues, nerves and blood vessels. These biologically adaptive, flexible transistors might one day help doctors learn more about what is happening inside the body, and stimulate the body for treatments. When heated, the devices can change shape and still maintain their electronic properties. Scientists and physicians have been trying to put electronics in the body for a while now, but one of the problems is that the stiffness of common electronics is not compatible with biological tissue. We need the device to be stiff at room temperature so the surgeon can implant the device, but soft and flexible enough to wrap around 3-D objects so the body can behave exactly as it would without the device. By putting electronics on shape-changing and softening polymers, we can do just that.

Researchers have created fully biodegradable electronics that could allow doctors to implant medical sensors or drug delivery devices that dissolve when they’re no longer needed. The transient circuits can be programmed to disappear after a set amount of time based on the durability of their silk-protein coating. The work builds upon previous efforts on using silk as a body-friendly mechanical support for electronics as well as a tunable coating that can be made to last days or months depending on chemical processing. By combining that technology with thin and flexible circuitry, researchers were able to develop silicon-based electronics that completely biodegrade. Other groups are also working to develop biodegradable electronics, some with different materials that may not perform as reliably as the silicon device but might dissolve faster. The circuits themselves are made from magnesium electrodes and thin sheets of silicon. They are built on a support substrate of protein purified from silkworm silk. The thin silicon sheets, or nanomembranes, are an important part of the integrated technology because they are more flexible and easily broken down and eliminated by the body than other forms of the semiconductor. The technology could be useful in a variety of biomedical implants, from treating surgical infections, as demonstrated, to drug delivery or disease diagnostics. But the potential extends beyond the body. Environmental monitors or even consumer electronics might be interesting to build in this fashion, because it would help to eliminate a lot of waste streams with discarded electronics.

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