Polymer Bioelectronics for High Resolution Implantable Devices

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

Abstract

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.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Cuttaz EA (2021) Flexible Nanowire Conductive Elastomers for Applications in Fully Polymeric Bioelectronic Devices. in Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Annual International Conference

publication icon
Cuttaz EA (2021) Stretchable, Fully Polymeric Electrode Arrays for Peripheral Nerve Stimulation. in Advanced science (Weinheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany)

publication icon
Goding J (2019) Considerations for hydrogel applications to neural bioelectronics. in Journal of materials chemistry. B

publication icon
Peressotti S (2021) Self-Assembling Hydrogel Structures for Neural Tissue Repair. in ACS biomaterials science & engineering

 
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. Preliminary studies have shown that these are well tolerated when implanted around a nerve.
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 delivery (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://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/advs.202004033
 
Description The technologies developed are being translated to a start-up in consultation with the Imperial technology transfer office.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic

 
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
 
Title Fabrication of fully organic electrode arrays based on conductive elastomers 
Description This novel technique produces a conductive elastomer composite with high conductivity and flexibility by solvent casting PEDOT:PSS dispersed in dissolved polyurethane. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The publication describing this technique has been cited 21 times so far, hence providing new perspectives and knowledge to the scientific community working in soft and flexible bioelectronics research. The technique is also being used and further developed by members of our research team. 
URL https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2019/BM/C8BM01235K#!divAbstract
 
Title Method to produce a stretchable, conductive elastomer composite with low conductive polymer content. 
Description Conductive elastomers (CEs) are materials composed of conductive polymers (CPs) embedded in an elastomeric matrix. This novel technique consists of filling a CP aerogel with polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to form a stretchable, conductive material with much lower CP content than previous methods. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact The usual methods to fabricate CE composites necessitate a high CP loading, leading to the degradation of mechanical properties. This novel technique provides a method of reducing CP content in CE composites, thereby improving their mechanical properties, and opening an array of new possibilities for the future research and development of such materials. 
URL https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0005410
 
Company Name POLYMER BIONICS LIMITED 
Description Polymer Bionics will develop medical devices based on the CE technology developed in this project. 
Year Established 2021 
Impact The company is in very early stages and is currently applying for funding.
Website https://www.polymerbionics.com/
 
Description Interview for HerImperial 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact I gave an interview for HerImperial, published on Imperial College's website, to talk about my current research and about the involvement of women in biotechnology. The article is accessible to the general public and is likely to be read by Imperial students, thereby encouraging female students to consider careers in bioengineering and informing students about my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.imperial.ac.uk/her-imperial/profiles/current-staff/dr-rylie-green/
 
Description Interview for Tech for Good bulletin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave an interview for the Tech for Good digital bulletin to explain my research to the general public and give my opinion of the future of bioelectronics. The article is published online without a paywall, hence it is accessible to a wide audience and contributes to stimulating interest in our field of research as well as improving the general public's understanding of scientific research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.techforgood.net/Features/TechForGood/2020/September/social-goodsep20/march-of-the-cyborg...
 
Description Nuffield Council on Bioethics workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Bioethics in focus workshops held by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics facilitate multidisciplinary discussions with experts and stakeholders to identify potential ethical issues in specific topics. I participated in the workshop titled "The human-technology frontier: biohacking, cyborgs, and wearables". The outcome of these discussions contribute to the Council's mission of informing policy and public debate about ethical questions in biomedical research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Poster presentation at BioMedEng 2019 by Ms Cuttaz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Poster titled "Conductive elastomers for soft and flexible bioelectronics" presented at the BioMedEng 2019 conference held at Imperial College London. This presentation stimulated interest in flexible bioelectronics research as the conference was attended by over 500 students and researchers from 67 universities, and 32 companies and organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at IEEE Nano 2020 by Ms Cuttaz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation titled "Nanowires-based conductive elastomers for fully polymeric flexible bioelectronics" given online for the IEEE Nano 2020, which is one of the largest conferences on nanoscience and nanotechnology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ieeetv.ieee.org/ondemand/nanowire-based-conductive-elastomers-for-fully-polymeric-flexible-b...
 
Description Presentation at the Materials Research Society 2018 forum by Ms Cuttaz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation titled "Tailoring Properties of Polymer Bioelectronics through Blends" given at the MRS forum in Boston in 2018, which prompted further questions and discussion on the material properties of polymeric bioelectrodes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at the World Biomaterials Congress 2020 by Dr. Goding 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation titled "Soft and Flexible Bioelectronic Devices" at the World Biomaterials Congress, one of the largest materials conferences in the world. The presentation prompted further questions and discussion on the topic of flexible organic electrodes for medical applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at the World Biomaterials Congress 2020 by Dr. Syed 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation titled "Developing a Ex Vivo Rat Sciatic Nerve Model to Evaluate the Performance of Commercial and Lab-made Peripheral Nerve Cuffs" given at the World Biomaterials Congress 2020, which prompted further questions and discussion on the use of ex vivo models to reduce animal suffering in biomedical and bioelectronics research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at the World Biomaterials Congress 2020 by Mr. Novikov 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation titled "Gel-based elastic conductors for soft bioelectronics applications" at the World Biomaterials Congress, one of the largest materials conferences in the world. The presentation prompted further questions and discussion on the topic of soft bioelectronics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at the World Biomaterials Congress 2020 by Ms Cuttaz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation titled "Fully polymeric nanowire-based conductive elastomers for soft and flexible bioelectronic devices" given at the World Biomaterials Congress 2020, which prompted further questions and discussion on the use of conductive elastomers for medical electrode applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Seminar on Polymer bioelectronics given at University of Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Students from Cambridge's department of Materials Science attended the talk, which stimulated interest in polymer electronics research and sparked questions and discussions around my field of research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://talks.cam.ac.uk/talk/index/120952