Tag Archives: medical implant

EFPL

Tiny blood testing device inserted under the skin delivers instant results

EFPLMiniaturization is a fad that’s increasingly popular in the field of medicine for obvious reasons, and scientists at EPFL have recently made a remarkable contribution – a tiny monitoring and diagnosis device implantable under the skin just a few cubic millimeters in volume that can instantly analyze key substances in the blood stream and transmit information to a doctor through cellular networks.

The device could prove to be extremely valuable, if not indispensable, for patients that require constant supervision or those under treatment that needs to be constantly modified.

There are literally thousands of chemicals flowing through our blood stream, and some of these substances are telltale signals of our health status. The tiny device developed by a team of researchers lead by EPFL scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara, and recently presented at the DATE 13 conference, looks at the concentration of various substances in the bloodstream and delivers key information to physicians directly, no matter where the patient is located.

The tiny device is only a few cubic millimeters in volume but includes five sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system. It can detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously, and so far, though the device is still in its prototype stage, experiments have shown that it can reliably detect several commonly traced substances.

The detect certain substance concentrations, like those for lactate, glucose, or ATP for instance, the device’s surface is covered with an enzyme.

“Potentially, we could detect just about anything,” explains 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 tested are good for about a month and a half; that’s already long enough for many applications. “In addition, it’s very easy to remove and replace the implant, since it’s so small.”

The researchers at the Swiss university believe their implanted sensor would be most useful for oncology applications where patient blood tests are taken regularly in order to assess tolerance and establish treatment dosage. As such, an optimal dose will be a lot easier to prescribe and deliver. Of course, there are a myriad of conditions that require personalized treatment and this sensor might come quite in handy.

So far, the device has been  tested for five different substances, and proved as reliable as traditional analysis methods.

subretinal-implant

Retina implant restores sight to the blind

In the culmination of 15 years worth of painstaking research work related to retina implants, scientists from Germany and Hungary have for the first time demonstrated that a light sensitive electronic chip, implanted under the retina, can restore useful vision in patients blind from hereditary retinal degeneration.

subretinal-implantAs part of the research, nine persons previously completely blind have had their vision partially restored. They can now identify objects in their surroundings, and have become independent allowing them to live a life closer to normal. One participant in particular showed extraordinary improvements, after he was able to discern 7 shades of grey, read the hands of a clock and combined the letters of the alphabet into words.

The  3mm x 3 mm implant has 1500 pixels or just as many independent microphotodiode-amplifier electrode elements. It is meant to be surgically implanted below the fovea (area of sharpest vision in the retina), and is powered  by subdermal coil behind the ear.

“So far, our approach using subretinal electronic implants is the only one that has successfully mediated images in a trial with freely moving blind persons by means of a light sensor array that moves with the eye,” the scientists said.

“All the other current approaches require an extraocular camera that does not link image capture to eye movements, which, therefore, does not allow the utilization of microsaccades for refreshing the perceived images.”

In people suffering from hereditary retinal degeneration, the photoreceptors in the retina progressively degenerate, often causing blindness in adult life. Unfortunately, there is no viable treatment that can prevent this from happening, however forefront research like this might offer them a chance to a normal life.

Patients implanted with the device now posses a diamond-shaped visual field of 15 degrees diagonally across chip corners. This is a poor vision by all means, magnified by the fact that the visual field is so tiny, but when compared to the pitch black darkness the blind were thrown in, eyesight restoration, partial as it is, becomes nothing less than godsend. In the video below for instance, a study participant needed 2 minutes to recognize and read a succession of letters that formed the word “MIKA”. Remarkably, the patient read it correctly and signaled the researchers that they’ve spelled his name, Mikka, wrong – of course, this was made on purpose.

Findings were reported in the journal Proceeding of the Royal Society.

The work was made possible thanks to a long-standing collaborative effort between the University Eye Hospitals in Tübingen and Regensburg, the Institute for Microelectronics in Stuttgart (IMS), the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute (NMI) in Reutlingen as well as the Retina Implant AG and Multi Channel Systems (MCS).

A tiny, self-propelled medical device that would be wirelessly powered from outside the body, enabling devices small enough to move through the bloodstream. (c) Stanford University

Cyber-crime turns frightening real: hacking pacemakers and other medical devices

It seems like a scenario from a bad spy movie: someone hacking a medical device like an insulin pump or pacemaker and control it at his will. Unfortunately, this is all but possible.

There are currently millions of people fitted with various electronic devices, some of which we’ve featured here on ZME Science. These range from smart regulatory devices that adjust things like heart beats or deliver drugs to simple tiny monitoring devices, that feedback data in real time and can provide valuable info otherwise unavailable.

A tiny, self-propelled medical device that would be wirelessly powered from outside the body, enabling devices small enough to move through the bloodstream. (c) Stanford University

A tiny, self-propelled medical device that would be wirelessly powered from outside the body, enabling devices small enough to move through the bloodstream. (c) Stanford University

However, scientists and government offices paid little attention to cyber attacks on such devices, either because they couldn’t believe something like this would be possible or simply because the technology employed today doesn’t allow for fitting cyber protection. Energy consumption is one of the biggest concern  when designing such tiny medical implants, and factor of the matter is battery life can only allow for so few processes. On top of that, it’s not like you can update your firmware on your pacemaker. An update signifies surgery.

The first signs that hinted towards the idea of cyber threats to medical implants as a genuine possibility came in 2008 when academic researchers demonstrated an attack that allowed them to intercept medical information from implantable cardiac devices and pacemakers and to cause them to turn off or issue life-threatening electrical shocks. Back then it would’ve cost thousands of dollars for a hacker to afford the necessary equipment to intercept a transmitter, but today you can do it just as well with only $20 using an Arduino module.

A McAfee security analyst demonstrated in July that he could scan and identify insulin pumps that communicate wirelessly and have any such pump immediately dump all its contents within a range of 300 feet. The same security analyst showed at a conference how he reverse engineered a pacemaker and could deliver an 830-volt shock to a person’s device from 50 feet away. Now that’s an assassination.

Indeed many companies took notice of this and haven’t taken the issue lightly. Noise shields or biometric heartbeat sensors to allow devices within a body to communicate with each other, keeping out intruding devices and signals. Governments are looking to staple regulations designed to protect patients from cyber attacks, and have future implants meet a certain anti-malware criteria. Still, it seems like the enforcing bodies are trailing behind the fast expanding branch of medical cyber-crime. I recommend you read more on the subject at these editorials from Fast Company and Singularity Hub.

If you have an electronic medical implant currently in your body or are considering one, please don’t be startled. There has been no reported actual attack on a person so far, so no one was injured let alone killed by hacking his medical device, despite being possible.

Brain power: harvesting power from the cerebrospinal fluid within the subarachnoid space. Inset at right: a micrograph of a prototype, showing the metal layers of the anode (central electrode) and cathode contact (outer ring) patterned on a silicon wafer. (Credit: Karolinska Institutet/Stanford University)

Brain glucose might power the future’s tiny medical implants

Brain power: harvesting power from the cerebrospinal fluid within the subarachnoid space. Inset at right: a micrograph of a prototype, showing the metal layers of the anode (central electrode) and cathode contact (outer ring) patterned on a silicon wafer. (Credit: Karolinska Institutet/Stanford University)

Brain power: harvesting power from the cerebrospinal fluid within the subarachnoid space. Inset at right: a micrograph of a prototype, showing the metal layers of the anode (central electrode) and cathode contact (outer ring) patterned on a silicon wafer. (Credit: Karolinska Institutet/Stanford University)

A team of researchers at MIT have successfully manage to fabric a fuel cell capable of running on glucose, which scientists envision will power highly efficient medical implants in the brain that can help paralyzed patients express motor functions again.  The outputted power is in the microwatt range, but despite its low range, scientists claim it’s just enough to fuel tiny devices.

A similar idea was expressed in the 1970s, when scientists demonstrated they could power a pacemaker which ran on a glucose powered fuel cell. The concept was soon abandoned in favor of the much more powerful lithium-ion batteries. These glucose fuel cells also used enzymes that proved to be impractical for long-term implantation in the body.

The MIT design uses a fuel cell on a silicon chip, the same technology used to make semiconductor electronic chips, with no biological components, allowing it to be integrated with other circuits that would be needed for a brain implant. The power conversion occurs due to  a clever platinum catalyst, a biocompatible material, which strips the electrons from glucose, mimicking enzyme activity that break down glucose to generate ATP – the energy of cells.  The researchers claim that the glucose fuel cell could get all the sugar it needs from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that bathes the brain and protects it from banging into the skull.

Tests so far have shown that the fuel cell can generate power in the range of hundred of microwatts – quite enough to power ultra-low-power and clinically useful neural implant, according to the researchers. Scientists warrant, however, that we’re quite a few years from seeing this kind of technology applied in medical practice.

“It will be a few more years into the future before you see people with spinal-cord injuries receive such implantable systems in the context of standard medical care, but those are the sorts of devices you could envision powering from a glucose-based fuel cell,” says Benjamin Rapoport, a former graduate student in the Sarpeshkar lab and the first author on the new MIT study.

The findings were published in the journal PLoS ONE

via Kurzweil