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Multifunctional biophotonic nanostructures inspired by the longtail glasswing butterfly for medical devices


Numerous living organisms possess biophotonic nanostructures that provide colouration and other diverse functions for survival. While such structures have been actively studied and replicated in the laboratory, it remains unclear whether they can be used for biomedical applications. Here, we show a transparent photonic nanostructure inspired by the longtail glasswing butterfly (Chorinea faunus) and demonstrate its use in intraocular pressure (IOP) sensors in vivo. We exploit the phase separation between two immiscible polymers (poly(methyl methacrylate) and polystyrene) to form nanostructured features on top of a Si3N4 substrate. The membrane thus formed shows good angle-independent white-light transmission, strong hydrophilicity and anti-biofouling properties, which prevent adhesion of proteins, bacteria and eukaryotic cells. We then developed a microscale implantable IOP sensor using our photonic membrane as an optomechanical sensing element. Finally, we performed in vivo testing on New Zealand white rabbits, which showed that our device reduces the mean IOP measurement variation compared with conventional rebound tonometry without signs of inflammation.

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The work was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) research grant EY024582 to H.C. and D.S., a HMRI Investigator Award, Caltech CI2 programme, Powell Foundation Award to H.C., and a Research To Prevent Blindness Innovation Award to D.S. Imaging was performed in the Biological Imaging Facility, with the support of the Caltech Beckman Institute and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. We acknowledge support from the Beckman Institute of the California Institute of Technology to the Molecular Materials Research Center.

Author information

V.N., R.H.S. and H.C. conceived the study. V.N. and R.H.S. designed the analyses while supervised by H.C. R.H.S. conducted the microscopy and spectroscopy of the longtail glasswing butterfly. R.H.S. conducted the simulations and numerical analysis. V.N. and R.H.S. fabricated and characterized the nanostructured Si3N4-membrane samples. V.N., R.H.S., S.K. and N.H. conducted the in vitro tests. V.N., J.L. and R.H.S. fabricated and characterized the benchtop IOP sensors. V.N., J.L. and J.D. performed the in vivo experiments under the supervision of D.S., V.N. and B.N. conducted the biocompatibility experiments of the in vivo IOP sensors. V.N., R.H.S. and H.C. co-wrote the manuscript with assistance from D.S. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to David Sretavan or Hyuck Choo.

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Supplementary Sections 1–3, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figs. 1–20

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Characterization of C.faunus wings.
Fig. 2: Nanostructured Si3N4-membrane fabrication and optical properties.
Fig. 3: Nanostructured Si3N4 surface biophysical properties.
Fig. 4: Benchtop characterization of nanostructured IOP sensor.
Fig. 5: The in vivo performance and biocompatibility of the nanostructured IOP sensor .