Researchers are now working on the dark brown melanin pigment popularly known as eumelanin that colors eyes and hair, as well as prevents the Sun from damaging the skin. The melanin is known to conduct very little electricity for certain useful application. The study published in Frontiers in Chemistry elaborates the eumelanin structure generated after heating in a vacuum. The researchers worked on bringing about a billion-fold rise in the eumelanin’s electrical conductivity. According to Dr. Alessandro Pezzella from University of Naples Federico II and Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development’s Dr. Paolo Tassini, the melanin-based electronics’ design is anticipated to be used in implanted devices owing to its excellent biocompatibility.
The scientists first found the specific type of melanin with excellent biocompatibility in eumelanin, which is the dark brown pigment in skin, hair, and eyes. The melanins are produced naturally and are also non-toxic without any immune reaction ability. Even after years of study on its structure, its potential use in the implantable electronics has never been explored. The applications of its synthetic or natural versions have still not been considered valuable. Its conductivity had earlier been increased by combining with metals or extreme heating into a graphene-like material but the material formed was found to be less biocompatible. After the study of its structure, the researchers understood that the proper alignment of the sheets for complete sharing of electrons helped electricity flow efficiently.
The annealing process applied to the films of synthetic eumelanin in the high vacuum condition helps neaten the structure. The resultant eumelanin film is named High Vacuum Annealed Eumelanin or HVAE. The films formed were darker and thicker as the viruses which indeed reflects the reorganization the eumelanin molecules have gone through after a uniform orientation and electron-sharing. The billion-fold increase in conductivity after the structural changes has confirmed the hypothesis. The researchers from the National Eye Institute (NEI) have found that the melanin production can be enhanced with the help of the drug nitisinone in oculocutaneous albinism type 1B or OCA-1B patients. The drug can help save the people from UV rays released by the Sun and also normalize the vision.