Producing effective epidermal electronics requires a strong, biocompatible interface between a biological surface and a sensor. Here, a KAIST team employed a calcium-modified silk fibroin as a biocompatible and strong adhesive. This technology led to the development of epidermal electronics with strong adhesion for patients who need drug injections and physiological monitoring over a long time.
Recently, biocompatible silk fibroins has been increasingly used for flexible substrates and water-soluble sacrificial layers because they allow structural modifications and are biodegradable. From previous studies, the team discovered the adhesive properties of silk fibroin via metal chelate bonding and the water-capturing of Ca ions.
Professor Hyunjoo Jenny Lee from the School of Electrical Engineering and her team explored ways to develop reusable, water-degradable, biocompatible and conductive epidermal electronics that can be attached to the human skin for long-term use. To overcome the limitations of conventional silk fibroin, the team introduced Ca ions to modify silk fibroin into a strong and biocompatible adhesive.
Calcium ions adopted in silk fibroins serve to capture water and enhance the cohesion force through metal chelation. Therefore, this endows viscoelasticity to previously a firm silk fibroin. This modified silk fibroin exhibits strong viscoelasticity and strong adhesiveness when physically attached to the human skin and various polymer substrates. Their developed silk adhesive is reusable, water-degradable, biocompatible, and conductive.
To test the effectiveness, the team employed the silk adhesive to fabricate an epidermal capacitive touch sensor that can be attached to the human skin. They verified the reusability of the sensor by performing attachment and detachment tests. They also confirmed that the physical adhesion of the Ca-modified silk facilitates its reusability and possesses high peel strength.
Furthermore, they tested the stretchability of the silk adhesive on bladder tissue. Although it is not an epidermal skin, bladder tissue is highly stretchable. Hence, it is a perfect target to measure the resistance-strain characteristic of the silk adhesive. When the bladder tissue was stretched, the resistive strain epidermal sensor corresponded to the tensile strain.
Showing high biocompatibility, the silk adhesive is suitable for interfacing with the human skin for a long period of time. Therefore, it can also be applied to a drug delivery epidermal system as well as an electrocardiogram (ECG) epidermal sensor.
Professor Lee said, “We are opening up a novel use for silk by developing reusable and biodegradable silk adhesive using biocompatible silk fibroin. This technology will contribute to the development of next-generation epidermal electronics as well as drug delivery systems.