Newswise — Bioengineers have developed biocompatible generators that create electrical pulses when compressed by body motions. The generators are made up of self-assembling “piezoelectric wafers” which can be made rapidly and inexpensively to enable broad use of muscle-powered electromechanical therapies. 

Piezoelectric materials such as ceramics and crystals have a special property of creating an electrical charge in response to mechanical stress. They are used in numerous devices including ultrasound transducers, vibration sensors, and cell phones. In medicine, electrostimulation using piezoelectric devices has been shown to be beneficial for accelerating the healing of wounds and bone fractures, maintaining muscle tone in stroke victims, and reducing chronic pain. However, the lack of biocompatibility—resulting in stiffness and toxicity—has stalled progress in the field.

Now bioengineers at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering have developed implantable piezoelectric therapeutic devices. The wafer-thin, flexible devices take advantage of the fact that non-rigid, nontoxic biological materials such as silk, collagen, and amino acids also have piezoelectric properties.