Cyborgs here we come, one tiny step at a time

When heated, the devices can change shape and still maintain their electronic properties. Credit: UT Dallas

And here we go with another news on implantable electronics. At the University of Texas at Dallas researchers are creating flexible electronics that can wrap around a specific organ, as tiny as a nerve, to pick up and to transmit signals.

In order to implant the chip the surgeon needs to have a stiff material that she can handle. Once the "chip" is in the exact location it will have to be shaped to fit the intended area, as an example it may be required to wrap it around a nerve (some hypertension that is resistant to drugs can be cured by sending appropriate electrical impulse on the vagal nerve with the electrode touching the nerve in a very specific position -an area about 2 cm long at the base of the neck).

The special polymer used by the researchers gets soft at body temperature so the surgeon can model it to any specific shape without loss of electronic functionality. More than that! Once implanted the chip will move along with the movement of the tissue around it without causing any harm, as a foreign body would do.

In an experiment researchers have bended the chip around a cylinder of just 2.5mm in diameter and have then implanted it in a rat. After a while they have seen that the circuit has reshaped itself to fit in the biological tissue at best. They are now working to further miniaturise the chip and to add new sensors and functionalities.

It is indeed another small step towards the age of cyborgs. As I often remarked this age is already with us with several people having a pacemaker, to the point that this is considered "natural". I bet we will get used to embedded sensors and embedded drug dispensers and just a little further down the way, probably my grandchildren, will consider perfectly natural to have some implant to help in difficult situation, to connect seamlessly with the web and so on. I can imagine a tough time for sport ethics to decide what is admissible and what not...

Author - Roberto Saracco

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