Bioelectronics is the discipline resulting from the convergence of biology and electronics and it has the potential to significantly impact many areas important to the nation’s economy and well-being, including healthcare and medicine, homeland security, forensics, and protecting the environment and the food supply. It is being fostered by the march of electronics technologies to the atomic scale and rapid advances in system, cell, and molecular biology.
Bioelectronics is the application of electrical engineering principles to biology, medicine, behavior or health. It advances the fundamental concepts, creates knowledge for the molecular to the organ systems levels, and develops innovative devices or processes for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, for patient rehabilitation, and for improving health. n the future, it may become possible to restore vision or reverse the effects of spinal cord injury or disease; for a lab-on-a-chip to allow medical diagnoses without a clinic or instantaneous biological agent detection.
Not only can advances in electronics impact biology and medicine, but conversely understanding biology may provide powerful insights into efficient assembly processes, devices, and architectures for nanoelectronics technologies, as physical limits of existing technologies are approached.
At the first C.E.C. Workshop, in Brussels in November 1991, bioelectronics was defined as ‘the use of biological materials and biological architectures for information processing systems and new devices’. Bioelectronics, specifically bio-molecular electronics, were described as ‘the research and development of bio-inspired (i.e. self-assembly) inorganic and organic materials and of bio-inspired (i.e. massive parallelism) hardware architectures for the implementation of new information processing systems, sensors and actuators, and for molecular manufacturing down to the atomic scale’
The Army has become increasingly dependent on computers and electronics to achieve high levels of situational awareness, to implement command and control networks, and to support combat systems on the battlefield. In the future, many computing and electronic devices will consist of biologically derived or inspired materials that will increase their usefulness for Army applications.
Today / short term: Increasing number of approved treatments (e.g. epilepsy, PD) using electrical stimulation impulses with no automated bio feedback (open loop)
Midterm: Device Miniaturization and new stimulation modalities with the aim to enable superior treatments for a broad set of indications
Long term: New materials and technologies to allow for a comprehensive human-machine interface enabling personalized and automated treatments
Recent advances in bioelectronics, such as skin-mounted electroencephalography sensors, multi-channel neural probes, and closed-loop deep brain stimulators, have enabled electrophysiological brain activities to be both monitored and modulated.
Bioelectronic systems typically rely on radiofrequency wireless components to interface with the human body, but such components are bulky and energy-demanding, which limits the performance of the systems. Metasurfaces—artificial two-dimensional materials with subwavelength structure—can be engineered to control electromagnetic fields around the human body and could be used to overcome the current limitations of bioelectronic interfaces.
UCLA Bioengineers Develop New Class of Human-Powered Bioelectronics
Team of bioengineers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has invented a novel soft and flexible self-powered bioelectronic device. The technology converts human body motions — from bending an elbow to subtle movements such as a pulse on one’s wrist — into electricity that could be used to power wearable and implantable diagnostic sensors.
The researchers discovered that the magnetoelastic effect, which is the change of how much a material is magnetized when tiny magnets are constantly pushed together and pulled apart by mechanical pressure, can exist in a soft and flexible system — not just one that is rigid. To prove their concept, the team used microscopic magnets dispersed in a paper-thin silicone matrix to generate a magnetic field that changes in strength as the matrix undulated. As the magnetic field’s strength shifts, electricity is generated.
Nature Materials published in Sep 2021, a research study detailing the discovery, the theoretical model behind the breakthrough and the demonstration. The research is also highlighted by Nature. “Our finding opens up a new avenue for practical energy, sensing and therapeutic technologies that are human-body-centric and can be connected to the Internet of Things,” said study leader Jun Chen, an assistant professor of bioengineering at UCLA Samueli. “What makes this technology unique is that it allows people to stretch and move with comfort when the device is pressed against human skin, and because it relies on magnetism rather than electricity, humidity and our own sweat do not compromise its effectiveness.”
Chen and his team built a small, flexible magnetoelastic generator (about the size of a U.S. quarter) made of a platinum-catalyzed silicone polymer matrix and neodymium-iron-boron nanomagnets. They then affixed it to a subject’s elbow with a soft, stretchy silicone band. The magnetoelastic effect they observed was four times greater than similarly sized setups with rigid metal alloys. As a result, the device generated electrical currents of 4.27 milliamperes per square centimeter, which is 10,000 times better than the next best comparable technology.
In fact, the flexible magnetoelastic generator is so sensitive that it could convert human pulse waves into electrical signals and act as a self-powered, waterproof heart-rate monitor. The electricity generated can also be used to sustainably power other wearable devices, such as a sweat sensor or a thermometer.
There have been ongoing efforts to make wearable generators that harvest energy from human body movements to power sensors and other devices, but the lack of practicality has hindered such progress. For example, rigid metal alloys with magnetoelastic effect do not bend sufficiently to compress against the skin and generate meaningful levels of power for viable applications.
Other devices that rely on static electricity tend not to generate enough energy. Their performance can also suffer in humid conditions, or when there is sweat on the skin. Some have tried to encapsulate such devices in order to keep water out, but that cuts down their effectiveness. The UCLA team’s novel wearable magnetoelastic generators, however, tested well even after being soaked in artificial perspiration for a week.
Carbon Material for Better Bioelectronics
Despite widespread clinical applications in drug delivery, biosensing, and tissue modulation—think pacemakers, glucose monitors, cochlear implants, electro-pharmaceutical therapies—bioelectronic devices tend to be rigid, power-inefficient, and mechanically and chemically invasive to living cells.
Traditional materials like platinum, iridium oxide or titanium nitride tend to be bulky. Polymer-based materials can become electrochemically unstable on repeated use. While coating surfaces with carbon nanomaterials can reduce help, it can add to the bulkiness of devices, and also cause in vivo complications.
To surmount these shortcomings, researchers at the Tian Research Lab at the University of Chicago have been working on a carbon-based nanomaterial that is more biocompatible, electrically efficient, and non-toxic. A paper describing their work was published in 2020, and in August 2021, they took out a patent for the technology. Focusing on the need for greater flexibility and stability, the research team developed a new method for fabrication of carbon-based bioelectronic devices and interfaces.
An essential characteristic of nanoscopic bioelectronic materials is their ability to self-assemble, which Prominski explains is to “form structures based on [their] chemical and physical properties [rather than] through the human interaction.” For this, the researchers used micelles, an aggregation of charged atoms or molecules, dispersed in a liquid to form a colloidal suspension. “The micelles are like a separate face of surfactants…which then causes segregation of material parts during the self-assembly process.”
Another unique aspect of the study, says co-author Lingyuan Meng, is the use of interdigitating electrodes. This design shrinks the size of the electrode for subcellular interfaces. “Traditional electrodes will generate a lot of toxic side-products,” she says, for example, Faradaic reactions, or charge-transfer reactions, at the surface of electrodes. These result in toxicity that can damage living cells. “So [with the new interface] you have a very healthy way to stimulate a cell.” The scientists were able to demonstrate capacitive control of the electrophysiology of isolated hearts, retinal tissues and sciatic nerves of rats, as well as bioelectronic cardiac sensing.
Bioelectronics and electroceuticals are tipped to be be the next big wave of device therapeutics, and the global market is expected to reach over US $25 billion in 2021. However, there are still many obstacles to surmount, including understanding the biological principles behind cellular stimulation and response in much greater detail. “The big challenge is [to] really know what’s exactly going on in the biological system,” says Meng, as there are a lot of underlying mechanisms taking place at the subcellular level that are unknown: “We see a phenomenon, but we are not actually sure what’s happening in the cells.”
Biomanufacturing is a type of manufacturing or biotechnology that utilizes biological systems to produce commercially important biomaterials and biomolecules for use in medicines, food and beverage processing, and industrial applications. Biomanufacturing products are recovered from natural sources, such as blood, or from cultures of microbes, animal cells, or plant cells grown in specialized equipment. The cells used during the production may have been naturally occurring or derived using genetic engineering techniques.
Zymergen develops manufacturing for High-Performance Bio-Electronics
In may 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer Zymergen introduced Hyaline, a new bio-film for electronic applications. Hyaline may be the first fermented electronic products and is already in use in flexible circuits, display touch sensors, and printable electronics. The product merges the benefits of advanced bio-fabrication with traditionally manufactured materials. In 2020, consumers will begin to see, touch, and use new products inspired by nature, says Josh Hoffman, Zymergen CEO.
Based in San Francisco, Zymergen’s technology platform brings together robotic automation, machine learning, and genomics, to tap into nature to design and manufacture the novel materials of the future. The company’s goal is to design, develop, manufacture, and market novel bio-based materials that compete on differentiated functionality across a wide range of industries, starting with electronics, personal care, and agriculture.
“Nature is the best manufacturing partner on the planet, but making new materials based on engineering nature is hard and making and delivering new materials from biology at commercial scale is even harder,” said Josh Hoffman, Zymergen’s Chief Executive Officer. “As a bio-fabricated film, Hyaline performs better than the competition and is manufactured sustainably. It has the potential to transform the electronics industry.”
Hyaline is the first product created by Zymergen and its development partner Sumitomo Chemical, Japan’s second-largest chemical company, and a leading supplier to many electronics companies. Sumitomo Chemical operates businesses in a wide variety of industries including petrochemicals and plastics, energy and functional materials, IT-related chemicals, health and crop sciences, and pharmaceuticals. Zymergen and Sumitomo announced their multi-year partnership in 2019. Using machine learning, automation and its powerful technology platform, Zymergen’s revolutionary process produces better performing materials in a way that is both less expensive and more sustainable, representing the potential to disrupt entire markets and categories.
Bio-based electronic films allow for the creation of applications that are smaller, lighter, and more battery efficient at a lower cost. They will accelerate the miniaturization and production of many devices and applications that sound like science fiction. For example, bio-films will make it possible to create flexible human-silicone interfaces in medical devices, motion-powered electronics, even wrist-wearable smartphones like those seen in the movie Black Panther. Hyaline can be used to create thinner films that are foldable, flexible, and more durable. It can be used to develop full-screen touch sensors with new mechanical, physical, and optical properties.
Key uses and advances in the Hyaline product:
- Touch Sensors: unrivaled combination of mechanical, physical and optical properties that enables durable full-screen touch sensors in flexible/foldable devices and allows for higher ITO annealing temperatures in manufacturing, increasing capacity
- Optical Filters: thinner film with high temperature properties to enable faster processing times in manufacturing
- Printed Electronics: completely transparent, high temperature printed electronics – including Flexible Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) – that eliminate epoxy/ acrylic adhesive layers to create an optimized system that is 30% thinner and more flexible, as well as solderable using standard reflow soldering
Unlike traditional computer chips that use silicon and petroleum-based products, Hyaline is bio-manufactured using fermentation — the ancient biological technique used in brewing and baking bread. Increasingly, companies are demonstrating fermentation can be used to make things like jet fuel, vanilla, nylon, beauty products, and other items that ordinarily depend on petrochemicals. In addition, the petrochemical toolbox is limited, expensive and is running up against manufacturing bottlenecks.
Performance-wise, Hyaline has high-temperature features that enable faster processing times in manufacturing. As a printed circuit board, Hyaline can be printed and used at high temperatures, while eliminating epoxy and acrylic adhesive layers to create systems that are thinner and more flexible. According to Hoffman, “We identified a market gap for moderately priced, high-performance films and set out to design and deliver a product that would outperform incumbent materials using biology. Hyaline demonstrates differentiated and sustainable performance optical and mechanical properties that were previously unavailable. It will enable a revolution for existing products and spark the imagination of designers creating next-generation products.”
Zymergen has already scaled manufacturing for Hyaline and is delivering products to users along the consumer electronics supply chain. Those firms have tested and validated Hyaline and will incorporate the bio-films into name-brand electronic devices. “With Hyaline, we’ve not only demonstrated we can re-imagine how materials are designed and manufactured with biology, we’re showing we can deliver incredible new products that outperform competing materials,” said Hoffman. “In 2020, consumers will begin to see, touch, and use new products inspired by nature. We’re in the early days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and Hyaline is proof that the revolution is real.”
The global Bioelectronics market was valued at USD 163.44 Mn in 2020 and will grow with a CAGR of 0.1% from 2020 to 2027, based on newly published report.
Based on Type, the Bioelectronics Market comprises of Bio-Electronic Devices and Bio-Electronic Medicine.
Based on Product, the Bioelectronics Market comprises of Electrochemical Biosensors, Optical Sensors, Piezoelectric Biosensors, and Thermal Biosensors.
Based on Applications, the Bioelectronics Market comprises of Artificial Organs, Biochips, Biofuel Cells, Fabrication Templates, Implantable Devices, Molecular Motors, Prosthetic, and Surgical.
Some of the top companies are Bioelectronics Corporation, Avago, Honeywell International, Danaher Corporations, Omnivision Technologies, Sensirion, Medtronics, BodyMedia, Sotera Wireless, Siemens AG, Roche, Universal Biosensors, Abbott, Beckman Coulter, and Life Sensors
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