The spread of bacteria resistant to antibiotics – popularly called superbugs – is threatening to put the clock back 100 years to the time when routine, minor surgery was life-threatening. Some medical experts are warning that otherwise straightforward operations could soon become deadly unless new ways to fend off these infections are found.
Bacteria often evolve clever ways of evading chemical assaults, but they will always struggle to resist the old-fashioned way of killing them: heating them up. It takes only a relatively mild warming to kill bugs without discomfort or harm to tissues. So imagine if little electric heaters could be implanted into wounds and powered wirelessly to fry bacteria during healing before dissolving harmlessly into body fluids once their job is done.
This is just one potential application of the bio-absorbable electronic circuits made by John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his co-workers. The idea itself is not new: Rogers and others have previously reported biodegradable flexible circuits and electronic devices that can be safely laid directly onto skin. But their success in making their circuits wireless could prove crucial to many potential applications, especially in medicine.