In the popular imagination, miniature chips placed underneath the skin probably mean something sinister—more Manchurian Candidate than the future of medicine. But, in the case of a project in Switzerland, the prognosis is more promising: The chip is likely to do some good.
A team at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne has come up with a half-inch implant that senses for five compounds in the blood, and can be used to detect for diabetes and symptoms leading to heart attacks, as well as monitor the effectiveness of treatments like chemotherapy.
Placed in the interstitial tissue, the device is powered via a contact-less (inductive) link from a patch on the skin, which also transmits data via a Bluetooth connection to a doctor’s smartphone or tablet. Researchers say the chip-to-patch radio signal is safe, and that the chip is small enough to be non-invasive.
The device senses for chemicals such as glucose and cholesterol, as well as substances indicating imminent cardiac arrest. It is effectively an early-warning system for heart attacks that could one day reduce the need for drawing blood.
So far, the researchers have tested it with animals and in a lab, but not with intensive care patients. They hope to have the fully trialed system ready in two years.
"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," says Giovanni de Micheli, professor at EPFL. "Our system has enormous potential in cases where the evolution of a pathology needs to be monitored or the tolerance to a treatment tested."