“Optogenerapy’s printed electronics prove the potential of this technology for improving patient’s quality of life”
Whenever we think of electronics, a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) full of conductive tracks and pads of laminated copper comes to our mind. The possibilities of electronics have been multiplied with printed electronics, a new technology that allows building electronics circuits using conventional printing techniques in a diverse set of materials, and provides extra functionalities to the surfaces and allows thinner, lighter and more adaptable applications.
In this interview Claudia Delgado, Optogenerapy’s project partner and responsible for Eurecat’s Printed Electronics research line, explains to us how printed electronics technology is key to the development of Optogenerapy’s concept and discusses the benefits of using this technology in medical devices and other health applications.
What are your contributions to the Optogenerapy project?
We are in charge of designing the electronic circuit of the implant, which will control the IFN-ß drug generation device, transferring the initial rigid PCB conceptualized by ETHZ into flexible printed electronics. Optogenerapy implant electronics will be printed on a very thin plastic by screen-printing, a technique commonly used in the graphics industry. Screen-printing can also be used for creating printed electronic circuits if instead of colour inks, conductive materials’ inks are used. The advantage is that due to the mild conditions (low temperatures and normal pressures) used in screen-printing, it is possible to print in low-temperature substrates, such as biocompatible surfaces or textiles.
Moreover, we are also developing the wireless powering of the implant, designing and including a printed antenna on the printed circuit that will harvest energy from an external controller device, activating the electronics encapsulated in the implant by electromagnetic energy. With this approach, there is no need of installing any kind of battery in the implant electronics, avoiding any kind of lithium contamination and minimizing the physiological and environmental impact of the implant.
Which are the advantages of using screen-printing for developing the electronics of Optogenerapy implant?
Screen-printing is a robust and conventional technique, as well a widely used stencil-based printing process in which ink is forced through a fine screen onto the material beneath. When using metallic inks, screen-printing allows the development of electronic circuits in flexible and organic polymers, at low temperatures, using less metal content. This type of printed electronics is lightweight and conformable and can be adapted to the human body, which is key to the Optogenerapy project.
Which restrictions have you encountered and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge that we faced is the size of the implant, which needs to be as small as possible for minimal physical intrusion. For that, we studied several designs and aimed at reducing the size and thickness of the electronics as much as possible. Other challenges are the necessity to use skin contact and harmless materials and that the connection between the electronics in the implant and the external controller works as expected and produces continuous energy.
Which potential has printed electronics for health applications?
Printed electronics allows the possibility to explore how to include electronics in organic, light and discrete materials that can be adapted to the body shape, a functionality with enormous applications in the health sector. The electronics developed for the Optogenerapy project could be applied to any other subcutaneous device that requires a light or any kind of sensor for data monitoring or drug release.
In addition to electronics that activate drug production or release active principles, we can also use printed electronics to develop patches, biosensors and wearables for wellness purposes and self-monitoring of any health indicator for preventive care.
Which are the benefits of using printed electronics in the health sector?
I would say many. For patients, printed electronics can help bring to the market less invasive and more seamless medical devices, which can highly impact in their quality of life. This kind of wireless electronics can be programmed and adapted to each patient needs, a necessary step towards a more personalized medicine.
On the other hand, for doctors, printed electronics devices can provide continuous monitoring of the patients, both for diagnosis or for therapy as in Optogenerapy case, and allow to register data on any health indicator and gain more insight on the patients’ physiological patterns.
What are the next steps for Optogenerapy electronics development?
Optogenerapy electronics development is facing its final stage: we are tweaking the printed antenna energy harvesting from the external controller, finalizing its integration in the laboratorial environment and starting fabricating the final pre-series for clinical validation.
Dr. Claudia Delgado Simão is a Senior Scientist and head of the Printed Electronics research line at Eurecat. She received her PhD in 2011, as a Marie Curie fellow working in the preparation of smart surfaces with tuned optical, magnetic and electric properties, and expanded her research later, as a post-doctorate, on investigating the photonic and photonic properties via directed self-assembly of block copolymers. Dr. Claudia Delgado has received two awards for her research, has been working in different European and national projects and authored several peer-reviewed publications and patent applications.