Don’t worry, it will dissolve

Each generation has its “badge of coolness”. For, kids it may be the latest superhero lunchbox. High schoolers need a car, any car. Some 25-30 year old nerds, who shall remain nameless, may feel the need to get a PhD. In the near future any member of the 60-70 year old set without a dissolving electronic implant could be doomed to “uncoolness”. Last Friday, Hwang et al published their work on dissolving electronics in the journal Science. Yes, you read that correctly, dissolving electronics.

One of the most common implantable electronic devices is a pacemaker. A pacemaker helps a heart maintain a constant beat. Sometimes, the need for the implant passes. Making a pacemaker go away requires serious surgery with all the risks to the patient that entails. Making a dissolving pacemaker go away only requires water, and our bodies have plenty of water.

The researchers built the structural components of dissolving electronics out of biocompatible silk from the silkworm cocoons. They were able to adjust how long the silk lasts in the body by subtly changing the processing of the silk. By producing silk that lasts only as long as the device is needed, surgical removal would become unnecessary.

Normally, there are metal components in electronic devices. Dissolving heavy metals into a patient could create more problems than it solves. To address this issue, the researchers used magnesium as a conductor because it is very reactive and because magnesium is a necessary nutrient, it poses no danger to the patient.

Now that these electronics exist, it can’t be long before patients will be receiving temporary, dissolving electronic devices. I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

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