Imagine a digital tattoo that transmits skin temperature; a transparent sensor on a contact lens that tests for glaucoma; a pliable pacemaker wrapped around a beating heart; and an implant that controls pain after surgery, then dissolves harmlessly when it is no longer needed.
Each one is an experiment under way today in the biophysics of personal medicine.
At laboratories in the U.S., Switzerland, and Korea, bioengineers are developing unusually flexible ultrathin electronics that promise to free medical diagnostics from the clinical tethers of cables and power cords, to make measuring vital signs more intimate and effective. Unlike today’s rigid computer semiconductor chips, these bionics are designed to stretch, fold and bend without breaking. They are curvy and soft like much of the body itself.
“It is such a different way of thinking about electronics, making things stretchy,” said material scientist John A. Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaignwho helped pioneer the technology. “There are a lot of things in human health care that we could do with these that are impossible today.”
A tattoo-like electronic thermometer from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Beckman Institute/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign