Even though as many as 50,000 people die of traumatic brain injuries in the United States every year, the equipment used to measure vital stats like intracranial pressure is usually made up of decades-old technology. To address this, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have created a new sensor that's far less invasive and much safer than the existing technology.

The team set out with one clear goal – to create a sensor that can be placed in the brain, is completely wireless and, once its job is done, dissolves away entirely. The device they built is made chiefly from silicone and polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA), and is smaller than the tip of a pencil. It's able to wirelessly transmit accurate temperature and pressure data, and the researchers believe that it could be easily adapted for use in other organs around the body.

The new sensors represent a big step forward over devices commonly used today, which are unwieldy, with wires physically connecting them to monitors. The new devices' ability to dissolve inside the body removes the risks of having a foreign object in the body for an extensive period of time, such as chronic inflammation or infection.

Two rounds of testing have already taken place, one using the new sensors in baths of saline solution and another that involved implanting them in the brains of laboratory rats. Both experiments had positive results, successfully dissolving in both the solution and the brains of the animals. The team is now looking to test the sensor in human patients.

"With advanced materials and device designs, we demonstrated that it is possible to create electronic implants that offer high performance and clinically relevant operation in hardware that completely resorbs into the body after the relevant functions are no longer needed," said the University of Illinois' John A. Rogers. "This type of bio-electric medicine has great potential in many areas of clinical care."

The team published the findings of its work in the journal Nature.