An easier way to remove medical devices

By taking advantage of a phenomenon that leads to fractures in metal, MIT researchers have designed medical devices that could be used inside the body as stents, staples, or drug depots, then safely broken down on demand when they’re no longer needed.

The researchers showed that biomedical devices made from aluminum can be disintegrated by exposing them to a liquid metal known as eutectic gallium-indium (EGaIn). In practice, this might work by painting the liquid onto staples used to hold skin together, for example, or by administering EGaIn microparticles to patients.

Triggering the disintegration of such devices this way could eliminate the need for surgical or endoscopic procedures to remove them, the researchers say.

“It’s a really dramatic phenomenon that can be applied to several settings,” says Giovanni Traverso, the Karl van Tassel Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “What this enables, potentially, is the ability to have systems that don’t require an intervention such as an endoscopy or surgical procedure for removal of devices.”

Traverso is the senior author of the study, which appears in Advanced Materials. Vivian Feig, an MIT postdoc, is the lead author of the paper.

Breaking down metals

For several years, Traverso’s lab has been working on ingestible devices that could remain in the digestive tract for days or weeks, releasing drugs on a specific schedule.

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