Who knew that Jell-o, the gelatinous sweet treat every child’s dream is made of, could ever be deemed as the future of medical diagnostics? Well that is exactly what Australian researcher, Dr. Marc in het Panhuis, and his team believe. With the intention of developing edible biomedical sensors, that could help analyze the various biochemical processes taking place in the patient’s body, the team has turned its attention towards 3D printed electronic gelatin.
For quite some time now, in het Panhuis, an associate professor of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Wollongong, has been working with his colleagues to create hydrogels using edible substances. Hydrogels are colloidal gels containing up to 97.5-percent water, and are widely used to produce contact lens. Additionally, certain types of sensitive hydrogels are used as biosensors and also, as part of drug delivery systems. Talking about the project at the recent Materials Research Society’s meeting in Boston, in het Panhuis said:
What I’m suggesting is that we can eat our electronics and then they can perform a function and naturally go away.
One of the major problems, in case of hydrogels, is that they are usually very delicate and would likely disintegrate under pressure. According to the researchers, however, fusing two separate polymers to create cross-linked molecular chains provides greater strength and stability to the gels. For this, the team developed a concoction of gelatin and genipin, a complex compound, with anti-inflammatory properties, derived from the gardenia fruit. Gellan gum, a thickening agent commonly added to pastries and jellies, can also be used for this purpose. In order to achieve cross-linking, the hydrogel needs to be soaked in table salt( sodium chloride) for a minimum of seven days. Consequently, the gel swells up and also becomes sturdier and more stable. in het Panhuis said:
Together this gives you a really tough gel.
The scientists are looking forward to creating these edible biosensors by using printable substances, whose electronic properties can be easily tuned. For instance, adding sodium ions to the already conductive hydrogels( a property caused due to the presence of water in them) makes them even better conductors. For 3D printing, the material needs to be in liquid state. The gel, however, will form only after it has cooled for a few hours.
While developing these 3D-printed electronic Jell-o is in itself a massive task, the process of gathering readable information from them is a trickier one. Furthermore, for them to be ingestible, the biosensors need to quite small in size. Over the next seven years, in het Panhuis and his team plan to solve at least half of these problems. The future for these edible Jell-o sensors is truly limitless. One important application would likely be in the field of soft robotics, to create advanced biocompatible actuators that could in turn operate a prosthetic hand.
Via: Discovery News