The use of implantable electronic devices to continuously monitor the function of organs and tissues provides an exciting new tool for managing the health of individuals; in some cases, these devices can also be used to sense abnormalities and treat disease without having to see a doctor. New materials that allow electronics to stretch and remain attached to the skin or organs such as the brain and heart can facilitate their use in the body, potentially for long periods of time, perhaps even permanently.
In new research, Park et al. investigated the ability of the body to ‘accept’ these stretchable electronic devices for long-term use and analyzed the body’s immune response to these ‘foreign’ objects. When surgically placed under the skin of mice for four weeks, the researchers found, using a series of specific tests that measure the body’s immune response, that the devices caused no impact on surrounding tissues and were not rejected by the body. Even when the materials used in the manufacture of these devices were mixed with live cells, no toxicity was evident on neighboring cells.
They conclude therefore that the devices are ‘biocompatible’, that is, they are not rejected by healthy tissues and have the potential to remain implanted for long periods of time without side effects. The results of this study are a critical step in advancing the field of implantable electronics and now allow investigators to proceed to larger animal and eventually human testing.