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SQI: Simpson Querry Institute

John Rogers unveils first biodegradable implant

Simpson Querrey Institute ­member and Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics director John A. Rogers announced the successful development of the first example of a bioresorbable electronic medicine: an implantable, biodegradable wireless device that speeds nerve regeneration and improves the healing of damaged nerves.

Working in collaboration with investigators at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the Rogers group harnessed their expertise in the design and manufacturing of biodegradable medical technology to create a thin, flexible device that wraps around an injured nerve and delivers electrical pulses at selected time points over multiple days, before dissolving harmlessly within the body. By varying the composition and thickness of the materials in the device, Rogers and colleagues can control the precise number of days it remains functional. The device is powered and controlled wirelessly by a transmitter outside the body that acts much like a cellphone-charging mat.

While the device has not yet been tested in humans, experiments using rats with injured sciatic nerves showed that any electrical stimulation was better than none at all at helping them recover muscle mass and muscle strength. In addition, the more days of electrical stimulation the rats received, the more quickly and thoroughly they recovered nerve signaling and muscle strength. The ability of the device to degrade in the body took the place of a second surgery to remove a non-biodegradable device, thereby eliminating additional risk to patients. No adverse biological effects from the device and its reabsorption were found. 

“This notion of transient electronic devices has been a topic of deep interest in my group for nearly 10 years — a grand quest in materials science, in a sense,” Rogers said.  “We are excited because we now have the pieces — the materials, the devices, the fabrication approaches, the system-level engineering concepts — to exploit these concepts in ways that could have relevance to grand challenges in human health.” View published study.