Wireless Osseosurface Electronic Sensors to Monitor Bone Health

The musculoskeletal system is an area of particular complexity within the study of anatomy. Currently scientists do not understand precisely how a bone heals. Responses can change depending on the individual. As a result, the provision of personalized treatment is challenging. A better understanding of how a bone is healing and responding to treatment enables physicians to tailor treatment according to their patient and will avoid any unintended adverse effects. 

Significant advances are taking place as scientists continue to develop bioelectronic interfaces including soft and ultrathin sensors. These tools provide scientists the opportunity to explore and examine unexplored areas of the body like the musculoskeletal system. Engineers at the University of Arizona have developed an ultra-thin wireless sensor intended to monitor the health of bones over extended periods of time.The battery-free device called ‘osseosurface electronics’ is attached to the surface of bones during an orthopedic surgery and can record several physiological parameters, including bone strain and temperature, critical for examining musculoskeletal health. For devices of this nature to work, wireless communication is imperative. The device performs without a battery. Instead power is generated from external devices using near-field communication (NFC), the technology used by smartphones for contactless pay. The device will provide a strong point-of-care platform to control musculoskeletal diseases and encourage rehabilitation.  

The device could also be especially useful to patients who are liable to chronic bone issues and refractures such as osteoporosis. Fragility fractures relating to osteopenia and osteoporosis account for more hospital beds than breast cancer and prostate cancer. The development of technologies that monitor bone quality and enable further research will substantially reduce costs of treatment and improve the quality of life for patients suffering from the diseases. “Being able to monitor the health of the musculoskeletal system is super important.” Comments Philipp Gutruf, a researcher from the University of Arizona. “With this interface, you basically have a computer on the bone. This technology platform allows us to create investigative tools for scientists to discover how the musculoskeletal system works and to use the information gathered to benefit recovery and therapy.”

The device is implanted into the surface of the bone using a calcium-based adhesive agent applied to the bottom side of the device. The design is extremely thin, to allow the device to lie on the bone without causing irritation to surrounding muscles and to conform to the bone’s exterior. “The bone basically thinks the device is part of it, and grows to the sensor itself,” said Philipp Gutruf. “This allows it to form a permanent bond to the bone and take measurements over long periods of time.” The engineers tested the device in animals, displaying that the device can be used in animals of small sizes and placed in the deep tissue of larger animals. However, more research is required before human trials begin.