A team of neuroscientists and engineers have struck big with a new kind of brain implant that will dissolve inside the body, rather than needing to removed after implantation.
The device, which is made of polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) and silicone, would monitor cranial pressure during the critical time period following a traumatic brain injury or surgery. PLGA is already used regularly in both food and medical applications because it acts like a polymer, sticking things together, but consistently degrades over time in the presence of water, or the fluids inside the human body. When these new sensors were placed in saline water, mimicking conditions inside the body, they dissolved within a few days. Likewise, they dissolved quickly inside the brains of lab rats.
Once implanted, the device measures intracranial pressure and temperature — two key factors in predicting life-threatening problems like inflammation, which can lead to further brain injury.
"The ultimate strategy is to have a device that you can place in the brain — or in other organs in the body — that is entirely implanted, intimately connected with the organ you want to monitor and can transmit signals wirelessly to provide information on the health of that organ, allowing doctors to intervene if necessary to prevent bigger problems," said co-first author Rory K. J. Murphy, M.D., in a press release. "And then after the critical period that you actually want to monitor, it will dissolve away and disappear."
Current monitors are effective but cumbersome, wiring the patient's brain to a computer that reads her cranial state. They were developed in the 1980s, but haven't been improved for comfort and ease. The new monitors promise to provide improvements in both, for patient and medical staff alike.
The researchers hope that the implant will be used for more than neuroscience — the monitors might be placed in other organs, like a kidney, where pressure and temperature are important indicators of health or injury.
The new technology is sure to light a fire under conspiracy theorists who believe the government wishes to use brain implants to control our thoughts. Now they can do it remotely! Unfortunately, however, it would be pretty conspicuous (the monitors must be surgically implanted) and short-lived; they dissolve in a matter of days.
The study was published this week in the journal Nature.