Cyborgs that combine machine systems with living organisms to have extraordinary abilities are already a reality say researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). This is especially true with medical implant technology.

Communication between man and machine – a fascinating area at the interface of chemistry, biomedicine, and engineering. (Credit: KIT/S. Giselbrecht, R. Meyer, B. Rapp)

In recent years, they say that medical implants based on smart materials that automatically react to changing conditions, computer-supported design and fabrication based on magnetic resonance tomography datasets, or surface modifications for improved tissue integration allowed major progress to be achieved. Special surface coatings used for successful tissue integration and to prevent inflammation were also developed by researchers at KIT.

Progress in microelectronics and semiconductor technology has been the basis of electronic implants controlling, restoring, or improving the functions of the human body, such as cardiac pacemakers, retina implants, hearing implants, or implants for deep brain stimulation in pain or Parkinson therapies. Currently, bioelectronic developments are being combined with robotics systems to design highly complex neuroprostheses.

Scientists are working on brain-machine interfaces (BMI) for the direct physical contacting of the brain. BMI are used among others to control prostheses and complex movements, such as gripping. Moreover, they are important tools in neurosciences, as they provide insight into the functioning of the brain. Apart from electric signals, substances released by implanted micro- and nanofluidic systems in a spatially or temporarily controlled manner can be used for communication between technical devices and organisms.

Electrically active medical implants that are used for long term use need a reliable power supply. Presently, scientists are working on methods to use the patient body’s own thermal, kinetic, electric, or chemical energy.