"These platforms represent the first examples of a "bioresorbable electronic medicine" - engineered systems that provide active, therapeutic function in a programmable, dosed format and then naturally disappear into the body, without a trace", Rogers said.
Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Northwestern University have developed an implantable, biodegradable device that delivers regular pulses of electricity to damaged peripheral nerves in rats, helping the animals regrow nerves in their legs and recover their nerve function and muscle strength more quickly.
A team of researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine began to look into ways to complement surgical methods with a nonpharmacological, bioelectric form of therapy and they came up with what is being described as bioelectronic medicine.
It is standard practice in nerve injury cases requiring surgery to administer electrical stimulation during the procedure to speed healing of the nerve. Others received no electrical stimulation at all. A device which was developed by the material scientists along with engineers at Northwestern at Washington University gives out regular pulses of electricity to all damaged peripheral of nerves.
Dr Wilson Ray, who co-led the research at the University of Washington, US, said: "We know that electrical stimulation during surgery helps, but once the surgery is over, the window for intervening is closed".
Over the past eight years, Rogers and his lab have developed a complete collection of electronic materials, device designs and manufacturing techniques for biodegradable devices with a broad range of options that offer the potential to address unmet medical needs. The ability of the device to degrade eliminates the need for a second procedure to remove the implant, reducing risks associated with surgery as well as with permanent implants, according to the study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
They said the device also can work as a temporary pacemaker, as well an interface to the spinal cord and other stimulation sites.
In rats with sciatic nerves, the Washington University researchers tested the device by sending signals up and down the legs, which controls the hamstrings and muscles of the lower legs and feet.
The device was tested in several rats, which received one hour of electrical stimulation for one, three or six days.
"Before we did this study, we weren't sure that longer stimulation would make a difference, and now that we know it does we can start trying to find the ideal time frame to maximize recovery".
The scientists can control the exact number of days the device operates for before it biodegrades by altering properties such as material thickness and composition. They are working now on creating new versions that can provide electrical pulses for weeks before degrading. So, this new biodegradable medicine is said to be the flawless search as they get dissolve in the body itself, and there is no risk of going for surgery. "This notion of transient electronic devices has been a topic of deep interest in my group for almost 10 years - a grand quest in materials science, in a sense". "With this device, we've shown that electrical stimulation given on a scheduled basis can further enhance nerve recovery".
Reference: Koo, J., MacEwan, M. R., Kang, S. -K., Won, S. M., Stephen, M., Gamble, P., ...
An bioresorbable electronic device degrades upon exposure to saltwater.