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EPFL | Next-generation implants will be biodegradable and non-invasive

25.06.2021
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Tissue grows back once the implant is gone

 

EPFL engineers have developed a neural interface that disappears harmlessly in the body after several months and allows natural tissue to grow back. What’s more, it can be implanted in a patient’s blood vessel rather than inside the brain, thereby avoiding the need for invasive surgery.

Some implants like pacemakers can last for years, while others wear out quickly due to technical weaknesses. Removing these implants can be difficult, or even impossible, because it generally requires invasive surgery.

 

A biodegradable implant for longer-term applications

EPFL engineers are developing a new generation of biodegradable implants that get around this problem. The first obstacle they faced relates to the short lifetimes of biodegradable materials, which limit how extensively they can be used.

The neural interface developed by EPFL engineers is made entirely of polymers that deteriorate naturally after several months. It can therefore be used in medium- to long-term applications such as monitoring epileptic activity or supporting neurorehabilitation after an injury. The engineers also found that the surrounding tissue grows back naturally once the implant has disappeared.

 

Preventing major invasive surgery

The engineers also wanted to create a device that could be implanted without requiring a major operation like craniotomy. Conventional neural interfaces are placed directly in the brain, and the tiny electrodes they contain stimulate or record cerebral activity. These devices are used to treat Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and compulsive disorders, for example, and to study the brain. The implant developed by EPFL eliminates the need for invasive surgery, as it can be implanted in a patient’s blood vessel.  EPFL’s neural interface can communicate with the brain but doesn’t have to be in direct contact with the nervous system. Because it’s made out of polymers rather than metal, it tends not to provoke a strong inflammatory reaction.

 

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