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Osseosurface electronics developed at the University of Arizona can stay on bones long-term to track health and provide information to doctors.

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science, medical and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

 

Calcified Computers. A new type of computer developed by researchers at the University of Arizona can monitor bone health while remaining attached to the body, beneath the skin, over long periods of time. The so-called “osseosurface electronics” are ultra-thin devices that are wireless and do not require batteries. The devices use a calcium adhesive with an atomic structure similar to bone cells to stay attached. Otherwise, the bones may shed the device as they normally do with old tissue and cells, similar to skin flaking.

“The bone basically thinks the device is part of it, and grows to the sensor itself,” said Philipp Gutruf, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UA. “This allows it to form a permanent bond to the bone and take measurements over long periods of time.”

Although not yet approved for human use, researchers hope the devices can eventually be used to monitor health and healing associated with bone fractures and breaks. This may be of particular importance to individuals with diseases like osteoporosis; rather than tracking bone health via trips to the hospital, the small devices could continually provide information to the user and doctor wherever they are. The devices have so far been used on lab rats, and collected information including temperature and bone strain during exercise. The devices can even deliver optical stimulation to the bone and surrounding tissues, to potentially induce bone regeneration. 

“As a surgeon, I am most excited about using measurements collected with osseosurface electronics to someday provide my patients with individualized orthopedic care – with the goal of accelerating rehabilitation and maximizing function after traumatic injuries,” said Dr. David Margolis, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the UA College of Medicine. 

This research is discussed in the paper “Osseosurface electronics,” published in the science journal Nature

Communications. 

 

Internet Investment. On Monday, Nov. 15, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a $100 million commitment to expand high-speed internet to “unserved or underserved areas of the state.” These funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act, and will be known as the Arizona Broadband Development Grant Program. The program will make funds eligible to local governments, Native American tribes, schools, libraries and more. The funds are available to both rural and urban communities, with the money paid on a reimbursement basis for costs incurred by the applicants.

“In today’s digitally connected world, ensuring access to high-speed internet is key to growing opportunity,” Ducey said in a news release. “Today’s historic investment will build on the progress of recent years to get even more schools, businesses, tribal communities and homes connected, opening up more opportunities for services like telemedicine and digital learning.”

Individual rural funding can reach as high as $10 million and individual urban funding can reach as high as $5 million, making this one of the single largest broadband investments in state history.

“We have prioritized a true need for Arizona – broadband,” said State Rep. Joanne Osborne. “Telehealth, education and economic development all depend on a strong broadband connection. Investments in broadband lead to safer highways, connected communities and healthier Arizonans.”

 

Native Center for Disabilities. The University of Arizona’s Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities has been awarded $1.3 million by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to establish a new center aimed at improving disability services for tribal communities. According to UA, the new Native Center for Disabilities will provide on-site and virtual training, continuing education, workshops, community events and other disability and culturally related services. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the disability community makes up about 27% of Arizona’s nearly 272,000 Native American population. About 12% of Native Americans in the state have a disability that requires the use of a wheelchair, cane or crutches. 

“Far too often the needs of our people with disabilities go unrecognized and opportunities become less and less as they age, leaving them and their families feeling hopeless,” said Mildred Manuel, deputy director of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Education Division and member of the Sonoran Center’s Community Advisory Council. “We are pleased to see the work being done by the University of Arizona Sonoran Center and look forward to being part of this new opportunity for our Native American communities and our people with unique needs.”  

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