Diamonds adorning tiaras to anklets are treasures but these gemstones inside the body may prove priceless.
Two Case Western Reserve University researchers are building implants made of diamond and flexible polymer that are designed to identify chemical and electrical changes in the brain of patients suffering from neural disease, or to stimulate nerves and restore movement in the paralyzed.
The work of Heidi Martin, a professor of chemical engineering, and Christian Zorman, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, is years from human trials but their early success has drawn interest worldwide.
"Right now, we're trying to develop diamond-coated electrodes for implantable devices which last a lifetime," Martin said. "A patient would have one surgery and that's it."
For most materials, it's hell inside the body. But even inside us, a diamond is forever. Unlike standard electrodes, diamonds won't corrode, Martin said.
Diamond is so hard and rigid, however, that an entire implant made of the stuff would quickly damage surrounding tissue and the body would seal off the implant as if it were a splinter, Zorman said.
The key is to use just enough diamond. " We only need diamond at the biological interface where the device connects with a nerve," Zorman said.
To marry one of the world's hardest materials and a flexible plastic, Martin and Zorman use much the same process used to manufacture computer chips.
Martin's lab grows diamond film real diamond - under high temperature, in a vacuum. By adding impurities they change the diamond's properties. For electrodes, the team adds boron, turning the diamond blue. Blue diamonds, including the famous Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, conduct electricity.
Because diamond is made at 800 to 900 degrees Celsius, a temperature that would melt the polymer base, Martin first selectively grows a series of tiny squares of diamond film
|Contact: Kevin Mayhood|
Case Western Reserve University