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Implantable Medical Laboratory-on-a-Chip Continuously Monitors Key Chemicals in Chemotherapy and High-Risk Patients

This innovative gadget can also telephone the doctor to warn of an eminent event, like heart attack, before it occurs

French researchers are zeroing in on a tiny, chip-based medical laboratory test device designed to be implanted under the skin. This miniature blood laboratory may revolutionize healthcare by continuously monitoring high-risk, chronically ill patients.

This ground-breaking work is being done by developers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), or Swiss Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, Switzerland. The implantable lab-testing device is linked to the user’s cell phone and can send alerts to doctors before symptoms are evident.

These alerts can include automatic warnings of an eminent catastrophic health event in the patient—such as a heart attack—before it happens or notification of the need for medication, noted an article published by the Daily Mail‎.

Gadget Continuously Monitors Chemotherapy and High-Risk Patients

Though it is only a few cubic millimeters (14-milimeter-long or about a half-inch), the gadget includes five sensors, a radio transmitter, and a power delivery system. The implant monitors key chemicals in the blood and could be invaluable for continuously monitoring patients undergoing chemotherapy, as well as other high-risk patients, stated the researchers.

“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,” said EPFL scientist and lead researcher Giovanni De Micheli, a Professor and Director of the Institute of Electrical Engineering and the Integrated Systems Centre.

Giovanni De Micheli(pictured) is a Professor and Director of the Institute of Electrical Engineering and the Integrated Systems Centre at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. He led a study that developed a miniature, implantable blood laboratory that monitors chemotherapy and other high-risk patients 24 hours a day and can phone the doctor to warn of an eminent catastrophic event, such as heart attack. (Photo copyright the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne/Swiss Institute of Technology)

Giovanni De Micheli(pictured) is a Professor and Director of the Institute of Electrical Engineering and the Integrated Systems Centre at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. He led a study that developed a miniature, implantable blood laboratory that monitors chemotherapy and other high-risk patients 24 hours a day and can phone the doctor to warn of an eminent catastrophic event, such as heart attack. (Photo copyright the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne/Swiss Institute of Technology)

“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,” emphasized De Micheli in the Daily Mail story.

How the Device Works

Each sensor’s surface is covered with an enzyme that enables it to capture a targeted substance, De Micheli explained. “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,” he added.


This video describes a tiny, personal blood-testing laboratory implanted just under the skin that provides immediate analysis of chemicals in the body. The minuscule gadget has a radio module that transmits the results to a doctor over the patients cell phone. (Video copyright the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne/Swiss Institute of Technology)

Currently, enzymes being tested are good for about 45 days, which is long enough for some applications. De Micheli also noted that the device’s small size makes it easy to remove and replace. Furthermore, there is no need to remove the gadget to replace batteries because a battery patch on the outside of the body transmits one-tenth of a watt of power through the patient’s skin to the implanted device.

De Micheli admitted that the electronics involved in making the device work presented a considerable challenge. “It was not easy to get a system like this to work on just a tenth of a watt,” he said. His researcher team also struggled to design the minuscule electrical coil that receives the power from the patch, noted the Daily Mail report.

The researchers hope the system will be commercially available within four years.

This device is yet another example of the disruptive impact that new technologies can have on clinical laboratories. However, even as such devices have the potential to provide real-time diagnostic testing for selected cohorts of patients, use of implantable “lab-on-chip” testing systems may create a new opportunity for pathologists and clinical laboratory professionals to provide monitoring and interpretive services.

It is diagnostic testing devices like these that may eventually play a role in the creation of “virtual medical laboratories.” In such care models, a variety of patient and point-of-care testing systems would be monitored remotely 27/7 by teams of medical laboratory experts.

—Patricia Kirk

Related Information:

The medical lab implanted under the skin that can automatically phone a doctor BEFORE you fall ill

Under the skin, a tiny laboratory

 

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