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FlexBio: The Potential of Flexible Electronics in Biology and Medicine
Keywords: Flexible Electronics, Biocompatibility, Biomedical applications
Over the past half century developments in electronics have revolutionized our lives, and the fields of biology and medicine. However, the application of electronics in these fields is mostly “outside the biology looking in”. We are only now exploiting the small-scale fabrication to interact directly with biological systems on their fundamental length-scales and to immerse these tools in the biological systems. This delayed impact is partly due to the combination of complexity and adaptability characteristic of biological systems, which have evolved to recognize, destroy, isolate or reject foreign objects. Silicon electronics is hard, rigid, and dense compared to biological systems, and has structurally and chemically different surfaces. It is this physical and chemical mismatch that produces biological responses limiting the utility of electronics in biological systems. Flexible electronics on organic substrates provide a better mechanical and chemical match to biological systems from biomolecules to humans. Organic surfaces are fundamentally more biocompatible than silicon surfaces, and polymer chemistry can easily alter these surfaces to optimize their biocompatibility. The underlying conformability of these surfaces is also important as most biological surfaces are soft and pliable. Cells have very sensitive stretch sensors that detect and react to motion and strain even on the micro-scale. The relative motion between flexible electronics and the components of biological systems is minimized; thereby, reducing adverse biological responses to the device. Since it is these responses that hamper progress in applying electronics directly to biological problems, it is expected that flexible electronics will have a significant future impact on biomedicine.
James N. Turner, Research Scientist
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY

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