Implantable electronics and possible application in sports science

I have a keen interest in new technologies able to help us understand more about how the human body copes with various training methodologies. In  fact, I believe that in order to improve the quality of our training prescriptions we need to base them on data and be able to provide an evidence-based approach to athletic training. We have now access to sophisticated tools capable of measuring a lot of aspects of human performance, mainly related to the output of movement (e.g. power output, force, velocity). Portable and field biochemistry technology has improved massively, but still, a part from blood lactate, glucose and few other biomarkers, we are quite limited in the ability to measure a wide variety of biomarkers in-vivo.

I have recently read a very interesting article on Technology Review published by the MIT (I suggest everyone to read this interesting online magazine every once in a while). The article was about dissolvable devices for medical applications. Something which is likely to look like this in the future:

(From Technology Reviews MIT: Credit: Bryan Christie Design)

Tufts University biomedical engineer Dr. Fiorenzo Omenetto is using silk as the basis for implantable optical and electronic devices capable of measuring vital signs and blood biochemistry in real time in a continuous manner. This implantable electronics are based on silk which is a biodegradable material and it is capable of carrying light like optical glass. Silk can also serve as a mechanical support for arrays of electrically active devices, allowing them to be placed on biological tissues without causing irritation. Depending on how it’s processed, silk can be made to break down inside the body almost instantly or to persist for years. And it can be used to store enzymes for a long time.

Dr. Omenetto’s group has published numerous scientific papers of this technique and they have also completed studies using animal model. In the next picture you can see an example of an implantable device used in an animal model (from Applied Physics Letters, 2009).


The following image is an example of how this silk implant is capable of being used as an optics device (from Nature Photonics, 2008).



Furthermore, experiments conducted applying the technique to feline brains has shown how sensitive the electrodes are and what are the possibilities of applying such techniques on living tissues (image below from Nature Materials, DOI 10:1038).image 

This technique offers incredible opportunities for medical applications, however we should not underestimate the power of using such devices to improve our understanding of human performance. I can see that in the near future we will be finally able to measure in real time how our body responds to a variety of exercise paradigms as well as nutritional interventions improving our understanding of human biology and giving us a better chance to prescribe exercise programmes.


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