Such devices are not without problems, caused in part by the body’s own protection responses. These complex and unpredictable foreign body responses impair device function and drastically limit the long-term performance and therapeutic efficacy of these devices.
One such foreign body response is fibrosis, a process whereby a dense fibrous capsule surrounds the implanted device, which can cause device failure or impede its function. Implantable medical devices have various failure rates that can be attributed to fibrosis, ranging from 30% to 50% for implantable pacemakers or 30% for mammoplasty prosthetics.
In the case of biosensors or drug/cell delivery devices, the dense fibrous capsule which can build up around the implanted device can seriously impede its function.
The research describes the use of soft robotics to modify the body’s response to implanted devices. Soft robots are flexible devices that can be implanted into the body.
The partnership has created a tiny mechanically-actuated soft robotic device known as a dynamic soft reservoir (DSR) that has been shown to significantly reduce the build-up of the fibrous capsule by manipulating the environment at the interface between the device and the body. The device uses mechanical oscillation to modulate how cells respond around the implant. In a bio-inspired design, the DSR can change its shape at a microscope scale through an actuating membrane.
Professor Ellen Roche is the senior co-author of the study and Assistant Professor at MIT, as well as being a former researcher at NUI Galway who won international acclaim in 2017 for her work in creating a soft robotic sleeve to help patients with heart failure. She says: “This study demonstrates how mechanical perturbations of an implant can modulate the host foreign body response. This has vast potential for a range of clinical applications and will hopefully lead to many future collaborative studies between our teams.”