Researchers have now developed electronic devices that become soft when implanted inside the body and can deploy to grip 3D objects such as large tissues, nerves and blood vessels.

"These biologically adaptive, flexible transistors can change shape and maintain their electronic properties after they are implanted in the body," said Jonathan Reeder, a graduate student in materials science and engineering at University of Texas at Dallas.

You need the device to be stiff at room temperature so the surgeon can implant the device, but soft and flexible enough to wrap around 3D objects so the body can behave exactly as it would without the device.

"By putting electronics on shape-changing and softening polymers, we can do just that," Reeder added.

Shape memory polymers developed by Walter Voit, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering, are key to enabling the technology.

The polymers respond to the body's environment and become less rigid when they are implanted. In addition to the polymers, the electronic devices are built with layers that include thin, flexible electronic foils.

The Voit and Reeder team fabricated the devices with an organic semiconductor but used adapted techniques normally applied to create silicon electronics that could reduce the cost of the devices.

The rigid devices become soft when heated. Outside the body, the device is primed for the position it will take inside the body.

"The next step is to shrink the devices so they can wrap around smaller objects and add more sensory components," Reeder noted.

The research is now available online on the journal Advanced Materials' website.


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