Electric Implants Kill Off Infections, Then Dissolve

Staph infection? There’s a patch for that

Surgery

Surgery

Army Medicine/Flickr, CC by 2.0

Someday, in the not-too-distant future, bacterial infections could be treated by implanting electronics into your body. A team from Tufts University and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana developed a tiny implant that can be inserted into an area of infection (or potential infection) and activated remotely, delivering either heat or drugs to infected tissues, and then dissolving harmlessly.

Their results were recently published in PNAS. The scientists created small implants made of silk that could be inserted into a patient (or in this case, a mouse). The implants tested held a magnesium-based heater between two layers of silk, and were used to deliver 10 minutes of heat directly to tissue infected with Staphylococcus aureus. The heat treatment worked, eliminating the infection, and within 15 days the implant fully dissolved. The researchers also tested using the small remote-controlled implants to deliver drugs to infected areas of the body.

In the paper the researchers point out that the method could be especially beneficial if the implants were inserted during a surgical procedure. There is a risk of infection during surgery or hospital stays and having implants already in a patient could allow doctors to treat infections as soon as they develop, without having to go in and perform another surgery.

"This is an important demonstration step forward for the development of  on-demand medical devices that can be turned on remotely to perform a therapeutic function in a patient and then safely disappear after their use, requiring no retrieval," author Fiorenzo Omenetto, professor of biomedical engineering Tufts University said in a statement.