Thanks to nanotechnologies, in particular nanoelectronics, the medical sector is about to undergo deep changes by exploiting the traditional strengths of the semiconductor industry - miniaturization and integration. While conventional electronics have already found many applications in biomedicine - medical monitoring of vital signals, biophysical studies of excitable tissues, implantable electrodes for brain stimulation, pacemakers, and limb stimulation - the use of nanomaterials and nanoscale applications will bring a further push towards implanted electronics in the human body. A new perspective article provides an overview of nanoelectronics' potential in the biomedical sciences.
Recent advances in materials, fabrication strategies and device designs for flexible and stretchable electronics and sensors make it possible to envision a not-too-distant future where ultra-thin, flexible circuits based on inorganic semiconductors can be wrapped and attached to any imaginable surface, including body parts and even internal organs. Robotic technologies will also benefit as it becomes possible to fabricate 'electronic skin' that, for instance, could allow surgical robots to interact, in a soft contacting mode, with their surroundings through touch. Researchers have now demonstrated that they can integrate high-quality silicon and other semiconductor devices on thin, stretchable sheets, to make systems that not only match the mechanics of the epidermis, but which take the full three dimensional shapes of the fingertip - and, by extension, other appendages or even internal organs, such as the heart.
Doping, the process of adding impurity atoms to semiconductors to provide free carriers for conduction, has been pivotal to microelectronics since its early stages. In particular doping germanium at high concentrations to make it highly conductive is the subject of intense research, because it lies at the heart of novel developments in integrated silicon-compatible lasers and quantum information processing devices. Researchers have now demonstrated a method to densely pack dopant molecules on the germanium surface, which then self-organize to form molecular patterns with one phosphorus dopant atom every two germanium atoms. The key finding is that when you deposit phosphine molecules on a germanium surface, they naturally form molecular patterns with one phosphorus atom every two germanium atoms that densely pack the surface.
Integration of graphene sheets and its functional derivatives into three-dimensional macroscopic structures is drawing much attention since it is an essential step to explore the advanced properties of individual graphene sheets for practical applications, such as chemical filters and electrodes for energy storage devices. However, a major problem in scaling up production of graphene is the tendency of individual graphene sheets to aggregate due to strong van der Waals attraction. Restacking of sheets not only reduces their solution processability, but also compromises their properties such as accessible surface area. A novel approach uses a simple leavening strategy to prepare reduced graphene oxide (rGO) foams with porous and continuous cross-linked structures from freestanding compact graphene oxide layered films. The whole process is more like making graphene "bread". The rGO foams perform excellently as flexible electrode materials for supercapacitors and selective organic absorbents.
High-performance flexible power sources have gained attention as they enable the realization of next-generation bendable, implantable, and wearable electronic systems. Numerous approaches to fabricate flexible energy sources have been developed, ranging from various designs for transparent electrodes to entire nanogenerators for self-powered devices and systems. In the past, researchers have tried to design flexible batteries with compliant materials in order to enhance the mechanical flexibility such as organic materials or nano/micro structured inorganic materials mixed with polymer binders. However, these organic materials have a low specific power density due to binder space and they generally have shown low performance for operating flexible devices such as bendable displays. In a new study, researchers have fabricated an all-solid-state bendable lithium-ion battery (LIB) structured with high-density inorganic thin films using a new universal transfer approach, which enables the realization of diverse flexible LIBs regardless of electrode chemistry.
Nanoporous alumina membranes are used in a wide range of applications, from photonics and sensors to bioelectronics or filtration membranes, since they are basically a 'universal' mold for making zero- or one-dimensional nanostructures of mostly any material or compound. With current fabrication processes, the main limitations of porous alumina templates are their pore size, which cannot be smaller than 25nm, and their polydomain structure, which prevents the possibility of addressing each nanopore individually for electronics applications. A new nanofabrication process by researchers from France and Germany allows to reduce the pore diameter while maintaining the self-ordering and keeping the lattice constant. This led to a new family of AAO templates with identical pores with a diameter below 10nm and a porosity of 3.5%.
Nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been extensively investigated for fuel cell applications due to their excellent electrocatalytic properties. However, their biomedical applications were comparatively less investigated despite reports of their better biocompatibility. When considering carbon nanotubes for drug delivery applications, it is desirable to develop strategies that allow utilize their hollow inner cavities for maximum loading capacity. Small size and facile surface modification are also preferable with regard to their biomedical compatibility. Nitrogen-doped CNTs have been already previously demonstrated to have better biocompatibility and mitigated cytotoxicity as compared to traditional undoped pristine CNTs. Taking advantage of this, researchers used nitrogen doping of CNTs which resulted in formation of cup-shaped compartments in CNTs uniquely suitable for encapsulation. The resulting nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube cups can be corked by gold nanoparticles to form enclosed nanocapsules.
Early and accurate detection of cancer is critical for successful cancer therapies. In most cases, a tissue biopsy is the initial means of making a diagnosis. With increasing accuracy, 'liquid biopsies' - where circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are isolated from blood samples - are becoming a viable complement or even alternative to invasive biopsies of metastatic tumors. CTC is of great interest for evaluating cancer dissemination, predicting patient prognosis, and also for the evaluation of therapeutic treatments. In new work, researchers describe a rapid and simple electrochemical biosensing strategy to quantify circulating tumour cells based on the simultaneous use of antibody-coated magnetic beads, which selectively bind to the cancer cells for subsequent magnetic isolation, and antibody-coated gold nanoparticles, to also selectively bind to the cancer cells for final electrochemical detection.