Researchers at the University of Arizona in the US have developed an ultra-thin NFC sensor that could be directly attached to human bone and enable physicians to monitor a patient’s bone health and healing from fractures and other traumatic injuries.
The battery-free osseosurface electronics device is as thin as a sheet of paper and “roughly the size of a [US] penny” and draws power from and communicates information to an NFC-enabled smartphone or other NFC reader.
The device’s thin structure means that it can form a “tight interface” with a bone without irritating surrounding tissue, while the adhesive that the researchers have developed to attach it contains calcium particles that allow it to “form a permanent bond to the bone and take measurements over long periods of time”.
“Being able to monitor the health of the musculoskeletal system is super important,” says researcher Philipp Gutruf. “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.”
Potential use cases include attaching the device to a broken or fractured bone to monitor the healing process.
“This could be particularly helpful in patients with conditions such as osteoporosis, since they frequently suffer refractures,” the researchers say.
“Knowing how quickly and how well the bone is healing could also inform clinical treatment decisions, such as when to remove temporary hardware like plates, rods or screws.
“Close bone monitoring would also allow physicians to make more informed decisions about drug dosage levels.”
The researchers have published a paper explaining how the device works.