In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, Prof. Christine Selhuber-Unkel explains the technology behind intelligent implants, describes the role of responsive materials in this setting and reveals possible applications.
Prof. Selhuber-Unkel, what are "intelligent implants" in the context of your work?
Prof. Christine Selhuber-Unkel: For me, they are autonomous implants with integrated intelligence. More explicitly, these implants incorporate sensing and actuation components to detect and intelligently respond to changes in the environment.
What are the possible applications for these types of implants?
Selhuber-Unkel: There are many diseases that demand an acute response. One possible application is the use of these types of implants in epileptic patients. If a patient suffers an acute epileptic seizure, the "intelligent" implant would register and react to the seizure by releasing the corresponding anti-epileptic medication.
Another option would be to use the implant in tissue engineering. This would not be an implant in the traditional sense since the goal of tissue engineering is to restore and recreate tissue to mimic natural systems as best as possible. This is an area where materials could control the formation of new viable tissue.
What specific ideas and goals do you pursue at the newly founded Institute for Molecular Systems Engineering (IMSE)?
Selhuber-Unkel: We partnered up in a collaborative project with colleagues of the Research Training Group "Materials for Brain", which -among other things - studies intelligent implants. We pursue projects that focus on responsive material-controlled drug release. Other projects emphasize the control of cell growth via materials. This type of control mechanism is essential for implant applications to achieve the best possible results in terms of functionality.
What makes these materials responsive, and what sensor and actuation technologies does this entail?
Selhuber-Unkel: Certain materials will respond to the changes in the pH of the surrounding medium. It changes if there is inflammation in the body, for example. This type of material would fight inflammation by releasing an anti-inflammatory drug.
Responsive materials often need external stimuli – such as light – as a control component. That is why we still have a long way to go before we will have a fully autonomous material.