Polymer Bioelectronics for High Resolution Implantable Devices

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Bioengineering


When bioelectronic devices such as cochlear implants, bionic eyes, brain-machine interfaces, nerve block stimulators and cardiac pacemakers are implanted into the body they induce an inflammatory response that is difficult to control. Metals used historically for these types of devices (for instance platinum/iridium in cardiac pacemakers) are both stiff and inorganic. Consequently these implants are tolerated by the body rather than integrated and the device is often walled off in a scar tissue capsule. As a result high powered and unsafe currents are required to activate tissues and produce a therapeutic response. This limitation has prevented the development of high resolution bionic devices that can improve patient quality of life (for example by enabling improved perception of sound for cochlear implant users).

This research programme will bring together concepts from tissue engineering, polymer design and bionic device technologies to develop soft and flexible polymer bioelectronics. A range of novel conductive biomaterials will be used to either coat conventional devices or fabricated as free-standing fully organic electrode arrays from conductive polymers (CPs), hydrogels, elastomers and native proteins. The electrode array stiffness will be matched to that of nerve tissue and the polymer components will be biofunctionalised to improve cell interactions, prevent rejection and minimise scar formation.

Coating technologies will be assessed as a pathway to modifying existing commercial devices in collaboration with industry partners, Galvani Bioelectronics and Boston Scientific. Ultimately, the research programme will demonstrate safety and efficacy of polymeric electrode arrays using protocols defined by medical device regulatory bodies. Collaboration with industry partners will ensure that outcomes are relevant to the market and directly translatable while engaging key stakeholders.

Polymer bioelectronics will be a ground breaking step towards safer neural cell stimulation, which is more compatible with tissue survival and regeneration. High resolution electrode arrays based on polymer technologies will create a paradigm shift in biomedical electrode design with tremendous impact on healthcare worldwide.

Planned Impact

This research programme investigates new healthcare technologies, taking materials and device development from the bench through to preclinical studies. The engineering of new polymer bioelectronics will impact the scientific community, the medical device industry and the wider community including bionic device recipients. The major outcome of this research will be high resolution electrode arrays fabricated from polymer bioelectronic materials. These technologies will improve function and biocompatibility of devices, finding application across a range of active implantable medical devices including cochlear implants, bionic eyes, brain-machine interfaces, nerve block stimulators and cardiac pacemakers. Ultimately, this could mean the capacity for a cochlear implant user to hear music or source sounds within a crowded room. Alternately, it is a technology that will enable the development of new devices, such as high resolution bionic eyes that enable recipient to recognise facial features and read books. Impact will be facilitated through communication approaches and commercialisation efforts to ensure research outcomes are translated beyond the laboratory to benefit of the community.

A comprehensive communication strategy will ensure that research outcomes will be disseminated within the scientific community and used to grow interest in the research field, making evident the excellence of research occurring within the UK. Direct engagement with industry partners Galvani Bioelectronics (previously GlaxoSmithKline Bioelectronics) and Boston Scientific, will facilitate impact within the industry, directly communicating benefits to key stakeholders and growing economic interest in cutting edge technologies. Support from these two multinational companies will create impact within the medical device market and assist in networking to create new collaborations. Public journal or medical news commentaries and engagement within public forums will generate impact with government and patient representative bodies. Educational impacts provided by workshops and ICL events targeted at UK schools will raise the profile of engineering and science, increasing awareness of these exciting educational opportunities and career pathways.

From inception of the research programme, close collaboration with clinicians and industry will drive translational efforts towards commercial outcomes that benefit implant recipients. Studies that demonstrate the benefit of polymer bioelectronics will be focused on applications that are relevant to the industry partners. Materials developed within this research programme will be designed to interface with existing implant technologies (such as implantable processors and other electronics). Performance characteristics critical to patient expectations will be used as metrics and sourced from clinical collaborators. These approaches will create commercial impacts by reducing the risk of partner investment and paving a clear path to regulatory approvals. The PI team will also generate patents, raise funds and ultimately create a start-up company to directly provide new polymer bioelectronics to the medical device market.


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Description A functional, fully polymeric electrode array has been developed. It has been shown that these polymer arrays can pass electricity at a similar scale to metallic electrodes and can be fabricated using conventional micro-machining techniques. It has been shown that nerves can be stimulated using these electrodes and that recordings can be made from nerves tissues with better fidelity than conventional devices. Importantly it has been shown that these polymer arrays are very robust and can be handled easily and repeatedly without failure.
Exploitation Route This array is being further developed during the grant to enable a high resolution, stretchable array for implantable electronics. The materials developed in the first 2 years of this project are being explored for drug delviery (see EPSRC IRC funding received in 2018) and more recently are being used in dry non-implant conditions to explore non-invasive monitoring through a recently awarded EPSRC Transformative Healthcare Technology 2050 grant.
Sectors Electronics,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2019/bm/c8bm01235k
Description Future perspectives of Neural Interface Ecosystems organised by the Royal Society
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description iHuman: Blurring lines between mind and machine
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/ihuman/report-neural-interfaces.pdf