The ability to send and receive information from inside the body is of key importance for scientific and medical applications. Nearly all implantable electronics devices require communication with the external world to be able to transmit acquired bio-signals for analysis or receive instructions from external devices to modulate their interactions with tissue. However, this task is inherently challenging because the communication method should be (i) non-invasive, meaning no components extruding through tissue, (ii) low-power, to be able to acquire data continuously over an extended period of time (iii) high-speed, to allow transmission of complex biological data acquired, (iv) controllable, to allow communication over a defined depth in the tissue. The overall objective of this work is to develop an ion-based, high-speed communication scheme to enable non-invasive and safe transmission of signals without the need of components that extrude through tissue. The rationale for the proposed work is that ions in biological tissue can be used to transfer information at high speeds and low power to the outside of body. The educational goal of the project is to provide hands-on experience for students by developing fully bio-compatible and inexpensive devices for ionic communication. The proposed research is expected to not only advance the field of bioelectronics by improving understanding of key principles governing communication across the body, but also result in positive impact to society at large.
To understand and modulate physiologic functions, implantable bioelectronic devices should be capable of safely communicating the high spatiotemporal resolution bio-signals with high speed and low power consumption to devices located outside the body. This communication and data transfer should be accomplished through a non-invasive path with no elements that extrude through tissue to minimize discomfort, mobility complications, and risk of tissue damage or infection. Ionic communication, which leverages the ion-rich nature of biological tissue to transmit signals through intact surfaces, could fulfill these requirements and address the limitations of current electronic charge carrier-based approaches. However, there is a clear lack of knowledge regarding how to use ionic communication to establish a high speed, low-power, and biocompatible communication medium across biological tissue. The objective of the proposed research is to combine optimal properties for an abiotic/biotic transmission interface: biocompatibility, conformability, miniaturization, low power consumption, efficient interaction with the body?s ionic signals, and ability to transmit data at speeds relevant to electrophysiological processes. Specific aims for the project are: (1) establish the physical, material and geometrical requirements to enable ionic communication; and (2) define the physical parameters that govern the spatial propagation of ionic signals through tissue. Overall, ionic communication could result in significant medical and social benefits by simplifying data transmission from bioelectronic devices and enabling application to situations in which use of transcutaneous connectors or bulky implanted electronics is prohibitive.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.