When I read about the dissolvable electronic medical implants created by Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto of Tufts University and John A. Rogers at the University of Illinois, my first thought was what about dissolving all my old cell phones packed up in my garage? And, sure enough...
The researchers have thought of that too - all the old cell phones, TVs, old DVD players... might someday just dissolve instead of cluttering the world's land fills. But that's a very long time off.
Dissolving electronics made of silicon, magnesium, and silk: image: The Beckman Institute, University of Illinois via npr.com
For now, the Tufts-Illinois teams are focused on finding medical uses for their dissolvable electronic implants - not on 'permanent' devices like pacemakers and artificial joints, but on short-term implants, such as an implantable blood sugar monitor or an implantable thermometer. The researchers found that silk is a reliable delivery tool that, unlike plastic, can be programmed to dissolve in a day, a month, a year, or whenever it is no longer needed.
Another use for silk, found by Tufts University researchers, is as a 'refrigerant,' a discovery that also has has major implications for medicinal and food delivery. Proteins in silk, it was found, can protect vaccines and certain antibiotics during transport from the manufacturer to the patient without constant refrigeration, usually required to keep the vaccines live. When silk stabilizers were added to various vaccines, they were able to survive for two weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees.
sources: NPR Shots, NPR Shots 2, NBCNews