Taking cues from semiconductors, researchers have created skin-like soft sensors for fingertips that they hope to develop into "smart" gloves for surgeons.
The work--from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University and Dalian University of Technology--has been published in the journal Nanotechnology.
The researchers believe that the material will respond with high accuracy to stress and strains associated with touch and finger movement, and could be an asset in procedures such as local ablations and ultrasound scans.
"Imagine the ability to sense the electrical properties of tissue, and then locally remove that tissue, precisely by local ablation, all via the fingertips using smart surgical gloves," study co-author John Rogers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said according to an announcement. "Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, ultrasound imaging could be possible."
The paper describes the materials and design for using ultrathin, stretchable, silicon-based electronics and soft sensors to be attached to artificial "skin" and fitted to fingertips. Rogers and his team experimented with sensors both inside and outside the skin.
The material, eventually molded to the shape of a finger, is an electric circuit made of patterns of gold conductive lines and ultrathin sheets of silicon, integrated onto a flexible polymer called polyimide, which is shaped and transferred to a thin sheet of silicone rubber, according to a recent Medical Daily article.
The researchers also believe the material could allow surgical robots to interact with their surroundings through touch. They plan to look at uses in other parts of the body, such as the heart, and ways to integrate power and wireless data.
Nanotechnology holds promise on many fronts for innovation in healthcare. UCLA researchers have developed a device incorporating nanotech, cell phones and mapping technology to diagnose infections on the fly and map those patients' location.
What's more, a biochip created at Brown University holds promise to free diabetics from finger pricks by testing glucose levels using saliva.