Humans are merging with machines. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the new medical device — a computer chip — that is implanted under the skin to monitor the carrier’s health.
The chip, designed by scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, is like a portable personal blood-testing laboratory, reports Laboratory Equipment. Containing five sensors, the chip can detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously. With a tiny radio transmitter, it then sends the results to a doctor.
The device is best suited for people who have chronic ailments or for whom constant monitoring would provide a benefit. For patients with chronic illnesses, the chip could send an alert before symptoms emerge, or it could anticipate the need for medication.
“In a general sense, our system has enormous potential in cases where the evolution of a pathology needs to be monitored or the tolerance to a treatment tested,” says Giovanni de Micheli, one of the chief scientists involved in the chip’s development.
The device is only a few cubic millimeters in volume. But it can still send out a radio signal. Equipment Laboratory explains more:
Outside the body, a battery patch provides 1/10 watt of power, through the patient’s skin — thus there’s no need to operate every time the battery needs changing. Information is routed through a series of stages, from the patient’s body to the doctor’s computer screen. The implant emits radio waves over a safe frequency. The patch collects the data and transmits them via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, which then sends them to the doctor over the cellular network.
The sensor’s surface is covered with an enzyme to help detect targeted substances, such as lactate, glucose, or adenosine triphosphate, which is an indicator of the spontaneity of reactions. “Potentially, we could detect just about anything,” says de Micheli. “But the enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to design them to last as long as possible.” The enzymes currently being used last for about a month, long enough for many applications.
The implant may be particularly useful for cancer patients. When oncologists evaluate their patients’ tolerance to a drug treatment dosage, they currently use blood tests. In these cases, it is difficult to determine the optimal dose.
The EPFL medical device — which is expected to be available commercially in about four years — could offer better, more personalized medicine. “It will allow direct and continuous monitoring based on a patient’s individual tolerance, and not on age and weight charts or weekly blood tests,” de Micheli says.