Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed an ultra-thin wireless device designed to be implanted in bone to monitor the health of patients’ tissues. Microcomputers can be left in the body for a long time – they do not require their own power sources to transfer data.
The data obtained from bone implants will enable individualized orthopedic care to be provided, for example helping to speed up trauma rehabilitation based on the collected data.
Although the system has not yet been approved or even tested in humans, microcomputers once implanted in bones will not only help monitor health, but also improve it. According to local scientists, the presence of a “computer in the bone” allows the creation of research tools that can convey accurate data on the functioning of the musculoskeletal system and use the information collected for prevention, therapy and rehabilitation.
Since the muscles fit snugly against the bone and are constantly in motion, it is important that the device is thin enough so that it does not irritate the adjacent tissue or be ripped off.
The designed computer is no thicker than a sheet of paper, and is roughly the size of a small coin. In this case, the device can be deformed according to the shape of the bone and does not require batteries. To interact with external electronics, a technology is used similar to NFC chips used, for example, in smartphones and bank cards for contactless payments.
Since the outer layers of bones are “renewed” like the outer layers of skin, traditional methods of attaching to tissues are not suitable – even with the use of special glue, the device would be peeled off within a few months. To solve this problem, a special glue has been developed containing calcium particles with a structure almost identical to bone cells. Thanks to this, scientists managed to “trick” the bone, forcing it to consider the microcomputer as its part. This allows you to form a permanent “bond” with the bone and take measurements for a long time.
For example, a doctor might attach a device to a broken or cracked bone to track the progress of treatment. This is extremely beneficial for patients with diagnoses like osteoporosis, as they often have recurrent fractures. Knowing how quickly and well the bone is restored, it is possible to prescribe the optimal treatment, make a decision on the timely removal of foreign attachment elements in case of fractures. In addition, some patients are prescribed drugs to accelerate fracture healing, with significant side effects. A new way of monitoring will allow doctors to make more informed decisions when prescribing such drugs.