Implantable, flexible LED detects cancer [video]

Researchers have demonstrated that LEDs can be a new weapon against prostate cancer.

In light of its viability as a replacement for soon-to-be-phased-out incandescent light bulbs, LEDs have become a controversial and much politicized area of innovation. It's kind of a shame because beyond the contentious debates, the technology has the potential to revolutionize critical aspects of our day-to-day lives, such as health care.

The latest example of its game-changing application comes from researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, who recently demonstrated that a special type of flexible LED can, for instance, be surgically implanted unobtrusively inside the human body to detect cancer and possibly treat diseases.

The new concept, called GaN LED, is a highly efficient light emitting device that can be found in LED TVs and various lighting products. Until recently, it had been difficult to incorporate this semiconductor material into flexible electronic systems due to its brittleness. GaN LED is not only flexible, but also features a flexible LED biosensor to catch the appearance of prostate cancer cells.

Keon Jae Lee, a materials science and engineering professor, first hit upon the idea with his co-invention of "High Performance Flexible Single Crystal GaN," developed during his PhD course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). His flexible GaN LED biosensor utilizes a similar method to transfer thin GaN LED films onto flexible substrates. This is followed up with a biocompatible packaging process that enables the technology to be used for implantable biomedical applications.

"Bio-integrated LEDs represent an exciting, new technology with strong potential to address important challenges in human health," said Professor John Roger. "This present work represents a very nice contribution to this emerging field."

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