Editorial Feature

Biocompatible Polymers in Medical Sensing

In recent years, medical science has seen an increasing interest in medical sensing devices for enhanced detection, quantification, and monitoring of various disease-related analytes that help scientists better understand, prevent, and treat disease.

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The Growing Importance of Medical Sensing

Sensors have been used in medical devices for many years. Essentially, a medical sensor is an electronics-based technology that can detect various forms of stimuli and convert them into electrical signals that can be meaningfully analyzed. Sensors have already been implemented into various types of medical equipment across various healthcare applications. Sensors are used in life-supporting implants, diagnostics, bedside and remote monitoring of vital signs, and treating a disease or injury. They are also used to calibrate equipment.

Advancements in medical sensing are facilitating the development of next-generation medical devices that offer better diagnostic, preventative, and therapeutic approaches.

Biocompatible polymers are currently a hot topic in medical sensor research. Scientists are increasingly leveraging the properties of biocompatible materials to develop medical devices with novel capabilities to further improve healthcare. Here, we explore how far research and development have come into biocompatible polymers in medical sensing.

What Are Biocompatible Polymers?

Biocompatible polymers are materials that can be of both artificial or natural origin that work in intimacy with living cells and tissues. This new class of material has been developed to detect, treat, or substitute various tissues and functions in the body. In the case of medical sensors, they are used to detect a specific analyte from a biological source, often in the form of human blood. They have great potential to be used in many other medical applications in addition to medical sensing, such as in drug delivery, medical devices, and tissue engineering scaffolds. An important property of this novel class of materials is that it does not produce toxic or harmful results as a result of interaction with biological material, nor does it induce an immune response in biological systems.

How Are Biocompatible Polymers Used in Medical Sensing?

Biosensors are often fabricated in the form of lab-on-a-chip technology. Biocompatible polymers have been increasingly used for this technology due to their flexibility, biocompatibility, and relatively low cost. Biocompatible polymers also overcome the challenge of developing sensors that are secure and safe when used in applications that require biological contact. This new class of material is biodegradable, bioabsorbable, and safe to use with the human body.

To date, the three most prevalent groups of biocompatible polymers used in medical sensors include low-cost, low-density, lightweight and natural polymers cellulose, chitosan, and silk. The unique structural and functional elements of these polymers give them excellent biodegradable and chemical properties. Compared to nanomaterials, biopolymers have numerous advantages such as mechanical robustness, low molecular weight, natural abundance, hydrophilicity, biocompatible, biodegradable, tunable properties, mechanically flexible, non-toxic, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly.

Numerous recent studies have utilized biopolymers to develop environmentally sustainable flexible sensors. Some studies have also shown biopolymer-based sensors to have impressive qualities such as self-cleaning and repairing properties which biosensors can leverage to help protect the sensor from external effects such as those caused by heat, moisture and dust. The low molecular weight, cost-effectiveness and biocompatibility of biopolymers give them great potential in biosensing applications. Finally, biopolymers include many functional groups, including -OH, -COOH, and -NH2 groups, opening the door to novel capabilities via the use of these groups.

A 2022 study developed a novel biocompatible and breathable sensor by utilizing polymers polyurethane (PU), polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), and polydopamine (PDA). The team constructed a sensor with excellent sensing performances by coating a porous PU song film with MXene, PDMS and PDA. The study showed the ability of the PU/MXene/PDMS/PDA hybrid sponge to detect stretching, low-pressure, high pressure and bending stimuli.

The novel medical sensor displayed a thermal therapy behavior and a photothermal antibacterial effect thanks to the combination of the conductive MXene with biocompatible PDA. The sensor can be attached to human skin to detect vital signs as well as apply thermal therapy to the joints. Finally, the breathable and biocompatible multifunctional hybrid sponge used to cushion the electronics further add to the potential of the biocompatible polymer-based sensor in applications such as motion-detecting, gait detection and posture monitoring.

A New Era of Healthcare

The application of biocompatible polymer-based medical sensors will play a vital role in facilitating the future of personalized medicine. The ability to reliably collect and analyze complex data from human biological sources in a safe and cost-effective way will underpin the technology that helps to tweak medications to the individual patient. Biocompatible polymer-based medical sensors will also help to facilitate the merge of healthcare and technology to help address unmet medical needs.

Continue reading: Integrating Sensors Into the Bioelectronics Industry

References and Further Reading

Nath, N., Chakroborty, S., Vishwakarma, D.P. et al. Recent advances in sustainable nature-based functional materials for biomedical sensor technologies. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-26135-w

Tanaka, M., Sato, K., Kitakami, E. et al. Design of biocompatible and biodegradable polymers based on intermediate water concept. Polym J 47, 114–121 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/pj.2014.129

Wang, X., Tao, Y., Pan, S. et al. Biocompatible and breathable healthcare electronics with sensing performances and photothermal antibacterial effect for motion-detecting. npj Flex Electron 6, 95 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41528-022-00228-x

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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