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How I make stretchy electronics for medicine

Here at the Soft and Printed Microelectronics (SPM) laboratory, in Coimbra, Portugal, we’re working on a new generation of electronics as flexible as human skin. These devices are made of ultrathin polymers and a stretchable, gallium-based electroconductive ink.

In this picture, taken last July, I’m holding one of these stretchable circuits. The e-patches we make that use the same technology and can monitor heart rate, respiration rate, brain activity, body temperature and blood oxygen levels. We aim to give patients in hospital more autonomy and help them to go home sooner.

Last June and July, we ran a clinical pilot test in patients at the Hospital of Coimbra who had undergone surgery and had to be monitored for 24 hours. The e-patch sends the data over Bluetooth to a computer, which then sends the data through the Internet to software that the medical team can access.

We are working on a soft electronic device that can monitor internal organs. Standard electronic devices are rigid and invasive. But a soft, miniature robot might be able to move inside the gut to film, register data or deliver drugs without harming tissue.

Growing up in Iran, I was fascinated by electronics and materials. I was highly influenced by my father, an engineer, who would buy me electronic kits. Soon I was repairing broken radios and TVs. I was often not successful — but I was learning my trade.

In 2015, I started the SPM lab. At the time, in Europe, ‘soft’ technology was still in its infancy. This year, I received €2.8 million (US$3.1 million) from the European Research Council for a five-year project to develop a 3D printer that can print soft machines, to create sensors, actuators and batteries.

We’re a team of 15 researchers, in different fields such as electronic, chemical or mechanical engineering and physics. We even have a digital artist. My job is to glue all this expertise into one unit.

Fonte original Nature.com

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