Last month, scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland announced that they have developed an implantable concentrated technology, utilizing five sensors in a few cubic millimeters.
The device will include a radio transmitter and a power delivery system, and will be the first of its kind to monitor several blood markers at the same time. Outside the body, a battery patch will provide 1/10 watt of power, through the patient’s skin, eliminating the need to operate every time the battery needs to be changed.
Tiny Lab on a Chip
The “tiny lab on a chip” is intended to be implanted under the skin, and is capable of tracking up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously. It will transmit the results wirelessly to a smartphone or other mobile device within a telemedicine network in hospitals, clinics and physicians’ offices. The mobile device combines cell-phone and satellite communication technologies with fluid miniaturization techniques for performing enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a fundamental tool of clinical immunology used as an initial screen for HIV detection.
EPFL presented the results of its research in March at the Design, Automation, and Test in Europe conference, and expects to market the device within the next four years. The device will allow a much more personalized level of care than traditional blood tests can provide, EFPL claims. Health care providers will be better able to monitor patients, particularly those with chronic illness or those undergoing chemotherapy. The prototype, still in the experimental stages, has demonstrated that it can reliably detect several commonly traced substances.
The device is comprised of a 14 mm by 2mm “lab” that contains five nano-sized sensors, and is implanted under the skin of the abdomen, or arms or legs with a needle, and an “intelligent patch” that is about the size of a credit card that is applied near the implant on the outside of the skin. The patch delivers 1/10 watt of power to the implant via induction through the skin, and it also receives data via radio waves from the implant which it processes and then transmits via Bluetooth.
de Micheli says that a key feature of the device’s technology is the nanosensors. The surface of each sensor is coated with an enzyme that captures the target compound, for instance lactate, glucose or ATP. “Potentially, we could detect just about anything, but the enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to design them to last as long as possible,” says de Micheli.
EPFL believes that the device will assist doctors in providing more personalized care to patients than traditional blood tests can provide, because they will have access to up-to-the-minute patient data as well as exponentially greater data points. The device will be particularly useful for doctors treating patients with chronic illness or undergoing chemotherapy, and will help them to deliver optimal doses of medications more easily. “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,” he explains. EPFL is considering applications for the device, such as monitoring glucose levels for diabetics and helping prevent deaths from heart disease.
Under its current design limitations, the device would need to be replaced every six weeks for continuous, long-term monitoring, but its size lends itself to easy replacement.