The New Frontier Of Implantable Technology

New visions and new progress on the merger of man and machine. We’ll look at the frontier of implantable technology.

A flexible, stretchable, biodegradable integrated circuit during dissolution in water. (Courtesy Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology and Tufts University)

A flexible, stretchable, biodegradable integrated circuit during dissolution in water. (Courtesy Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology and Tufts University)

It has this feeling of inevitability.  The merger of man and machine.  The implanting of computer power in and on the human body.  Some future holiday season when people are lined up for software and equipment upgrades that aren’t just handheld – they’re in us and on us.  Of us.  Plenty of researchers are working that frontier right now.  For your health – to track and treat your heart, your mood.  Give you a tattoo full of computer circuitry.  Others would push right inside to pump up your senses and more.  This hour On Point:  the new frontier of implantable technology.

— Tom Ashbrook


John Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Director of the Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois. Recipient of a 2009 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant.

Michael McAlpine, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker: The Body Electric — ” A living body is inherently electrical: once every second or so, a dime-size bundle of cells in the upper chamber of the human heart produces an electrical pulse that keeps the organ beating, until the pulse ceases and we die. Cells shuttle ions in and out, communicating in a language tantalizingly similar to the positive and negative charges of electrical circuits. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin—these are merely interfaces, ways for a body to chemically convert the uncharged outside world into current that, as it leaps through the brain, creates our thoughts and feelings. In millivolts, we rue our limitations.”

Discovery: Implantable Electronics Disappear Completely in the Body — These electronic devices are made from special materials but perform like regular electronics. They’re also wrapped in alternating layers that dissolve after specific periods of time. In the lab, Rogers’ team implanted them in mice at risk for bacterial infection. The devices produced localized heat, according to the ACS, which prevented infection in the mice. Then the devices dissolved.”

MIT Technology Review: Innovators Under 35 — “Michael McAlpine has developed a flexible material that produces record amounts of energy when subjected to mechanical pressure. It could turn the action of a patient’s lungs into enough energy to power an implanted medical device; forces produced by walking around could be sufficient to drive portable electronics.”

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