A research team at the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the School of Medicine of Tsinghua University has developed what they call injectable, 3D fabricated electrodes.
Jinyuan Liu, the lead author for the work, says he's discovered a "way of making three-dimensional medical electronics inside the biological body through sequential injections of biocompatible packaging material and liquid metal ink."
In the paper, entitled Injectable 3-D Fabrication of Medical Electronics at the Target Biological Tissues, Liu outlines what may well be the blueprint for modern medical monitoring techniques of the future.
That's right, Liu says it's entirely feasible that by injecting a transmission medium gel into the human body to create a protective shell, followed by an injection of conductive gallium liquid metal, the research shows that a working 3D electrode could be made that's both efficient as an electrocardiograph and can be used as a stimulator.
What it amounts to is a less-intrusive way for medical personnel to monitor a patient's vital signs. It might also mean that doctors could one day remotely provide signals which would allow them to treat a patient in real time.
Devices like defibrillators and pacemakers rely on tiny electronic pulses to do their work, but they must be implanted in what amounts to a very intrusive way. Liu's injectable 3D implant systems could plausibly be created inside the body itself with much less disruption to surrounding tissues than occurs with traditional surgery.
Liu and his team used the liquid gallium alloy, also known as liquid metal, to construct an electrical wire network, a node shaped electronic component and a triangular 3D frame electronic component by injecting the material into a gelatin container inside the bodies of test animals. Liu says he believes the technique could lead to a process which would cause little or no injury and discomfort to a patient.
Implantable medical devices are nothing new. They're surgically inserted and they come with a high price – maintaining them is difficult and removing them is often dangerous.
Testing of the process would most certainly have been difficult in the United States. By virtue of Chinese laws, Liu's team began by using pig tissue for their in vitro experiments. They used a 1 mm syringe needle to form an electrode carrier inside the gelatin and beneath the tissue, then fabricated a liquid metal ink electrode. Further testing was then carried out on a live mouse and a live frog. The first electrode was placed inside the mouse's thorax, and the resulting point of entry was no larger than the needle itself.
The results, however, were nothing short of amazing.
Liu says the newly-constructed electrode provided hyper-accurate ECG readings which were much more detailed than can be collected via an external ECG sensor.