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Biodegradable electronics are on track to reality

PHOENIX — Normally, patients who need pacemakers or certain types of monitors implanted in the body go through two surgeries: one to put it inside the body and the other to remove it.

That last surgery could be a thing of the past. At least that’s what a cardiologist/biomedical engineering professor at the University of Arizona is working on.

Dr. Marvin Slepian and researchers from the University of Illinois are developing biodegradable electronics. Their goal is to create chips, monitors and other devices that would dissolve in the body after a period of time.

“We have devices that are put in the body, to either monitor something, to sense something, to stimulate something, to be there as a temporary device,” Slepian said.

“But oftentimes it only is needed for a short period of time. If we could build systems, which had a defined lifespan, they could be in there and then eventually they may dissolve.”

This type of medical technology is called transient electronics. Slepian describes the transformation of technology devices that have changed over time into smaller or more compact technology.

Transient electronics is the next step. “We could make things which would be temporary and therefore would not have the burden to take things out.”

Even though this type of technology still needs years of research and testing, Slepian and other researchers are already thinking of how to expand biodegradable.

“What’s the average lifespan of a cellphone? We’re building a lot of electronic junk,” he said.

Creating consumer electronics that could eventually biodegrade could create “more of a green electronic system.”

Slepian, along with University of Illinois engineering professor John A. Rogers and scientists at Tufts University and Northwestern University, published a scientific article in September that outlines their advances in silicon electronics and its advances to become transient technology.

“It’s a little bit futuristic but it’s certainly very realistic as far as where we can go with this,” Slepian said. “Science can be cool and it can be relevant.”