Flexible LEDs could get under your skin
Researchers in the US, China, Korea and Singapore have collaborated to develop flexible ultra-thin sheets of inorganic light emitting diodes (LEDs) and photodetectors for implantation under the skin for medical monitoring, activating photo-sensitive drugs, and other biomedical applications, reports Nature Materials.
The research, led by John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US, and published in Nature Materials developed flexible arrays 2.5 μm thick and 100 x 100 μm square, which is much smaller than any commercially available array.
They printed circuits directly onto a rigid glass substrate and then transferred them to an inexpensive biocompatible polymer called poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) to create a mesh-like array of LEDs and photodetectors.
The PDMS substrate is flexible enough that the circuits can still function even if twisted or stretched by even as much as 75 per cent. Rogers said most research has concentrated on organic LEDs (OLEDs), which are extremely sensitive to water and oxygen (both commonly found in organic tissue), but the flexible arrays are encapsulated in a thin layer of silicon rubber, which makes them waterproof and allows them to function well when implanted or completely immersed in biofluids.
The design also eliminates the mechanical constraints normally imposed on such devices by the inflexible semiconductor wafers that support them.
The researchers successfully tested the LEDs by integrating a sheet into the fingertip of a vinyl glove, which they then immersed in soapy water, and they have also implanted an array beneath the skin in an animal model.
Potential biomedical applications for the LEDs include implantable patches for monitoring wound healing, for use in diagnosis or spectroscopy, or to control the delivery of drugs triggered by light in photodynamic drug therapy.