Driven by the emergence of personalized healthcare, there is a growing interest in flexible bioelectronics. Flexibility is the key to transform and enhance current human-machine interaction. Flexible bioelectronics enables conformal and seamless contact with human skin or internal organs. This renders them ideal for dynamic and real-time monitoring of physiological signals. Hence, more precise diagnosis and treatment are made possible. Riding the tide of artificial intelligence and the internet of things, flexible bioelectronics offer promising healthcare solutions.
The basic concept of flexible bioelectronics
Flexible bioelectronics can exist in various forms. They can either be wearable, implantable, ingestible, or injectable. In general, these devices consist of four basic parts. These parts include flexible substrates, sensors, signal processing circuits, and a power source. Together with the human body and mobile electronic gadgets, flexible bioelectronics conveys analyzed data and feedback to the cloud storage system.
Here are some of the novel conceptual applications of flexible bioelectronics for disease treatment based on the Journal of Materiomics.
TENG-driven system for effective intracellular drug delivery
Researchers have come up with a drug delivery system using a battery-free power source. This energy harvesting technology is what we call the triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG). It converts mechanical energy into electricity via contact electrification and electrostatic induction. And for this design, you can just activate it via simple finger friction or hand slapping. With TENG serving as the voltage pulse source, it then triggers the increase of plasma membrane potential and permeability. This enables the delivery of exogenous materials into various types of cells. Meanwhile, the silicon nanoneedle-array electrode reduces cellular damage besides enhancing the molecular influx. This transdermal active electroporation drug delivery has shown high delivery efficiency and cell viability.
Drug delivery for cancer therapy
Next, there is another nanogenerator-powered drug delivery system for cancer therapy. Powered by magnet triboelectric nanogenerator (MTENG), this drug delivery system provides electrical stimulation to the Doxorubicin-(DOX-) loaded red blood cells. Doxorubicin, or the Red Devil, is a type of chemotherapy drug. It is the electrical stimulation that controls the release of DOX from red blood cells. These stimulated red blood cells will release DOX at a faster rate. Once the stimulation is over, the drug release rate will then back to normal. This makes it more effective in cancer cell destruction due to the controllable release pattern.
Implanted vagus nerve stimulator for weight control
This battery-free vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) consists of a flexible and biocompatible TENG. Stomach movement is all this stimulator needs to work. Being implanted in the stomach, it harvests the stomach movement to produce electric pulses. These electrical pulses will in turn stimulate the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, is important for gut-brain signalling. Obesity usually happens when you overeat since you are not sensitive to satiety signals. Results have shown that stimulated vagus nerve results in the reduction of food intake. This self-responsive and real-time peripheral neuromodulation mechanism can thus play a role in weight control.
Electrical bandage for wound healing
There are two major parts in this self-powered electrical bandage: biomechanical energy convertor and dressing electrodes. This combination converts the kinetic energy from breathing mechanisms into an alternating discrete electric field. Results have shown that continuous electrical stimulation can in fact promote fibroblast migration, proliferation, and differentiation. Subsequently, this speeds up the wound healing process. Besides enhancing wound healing, this electrical bandage might potentially help with other diseases (Raynaud’s disease) and cosmetic concerns (scars).
Motion-activated device for hair regeneration
This universal motion-activated and wearable electric stimulation device (m-ESD) consists of two components. The components are an electric pulse generator and interdigitated dressing electrodes. The device generates stable AC voltage pulses during random head and neck movements. Functioning as a charge collector, the electrodes use these collected pulses to generate alternating electric fields. Results have shown positive hair regeneration results. This may due to the facilitated calcium influx under the influence of electric fields. With that, this stimulates cell proliferation and hair growth factor secretion, leading to hair regeneration.
Despite significant breakthroughs, most of these applications are still in experimental stages. While researchers continue to harness the full potential of flexible bioelectronics, the future of this field seems bright.
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