No one has managed to shrink an adult human to a size small enough to travel another person’s circulatory system, but the hardware’s ready, and it’s wireless.
Ada Poon of Stanford University reports that she’s come up with a way to run minuscule electronic medical devices deep inside the human body and power them wirelessly. That would be a major benefit to patients needing nerve stimulators, cardiac pacemakers or even some gadgets that haven’t yet been invented.
Poon, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, says she’s been trying for years to shed the unwieldy batteries and recharging devices that limit the use of miniature electronic medical equipment. In fact, she says, her research could open up a branch of medicine that relies at least as much on electronics as it does medications.
“We need to make these devices as small as possible to more easily implant them deep in the body and create new ways to treat illness and alleviate pain,” Poon told the Stanford news department.
Her research, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes an electronic pacemaker smaller than a grain of rice. It can be powered or recharged wirelessly by holding a power source about the size of a credit card above the device, outside the body.
Poon’s discovery, borrowed from cell phone technology, creates a new method of wireless power transfer that can safely penetrate deep inside a human body. She reports that an independent laboratory that tests cell phone safety determined that her system requires little enough power that it’s safe for use on humans.
Already her team has tested the wireless charging technology in a pig and used it to deliver power to a small pacemaker in a rabbit. Now Poon is preparing to test the system in people. But even if her proposal is approved and is shown to be successful, commercial use would have to wait several years so the system can be tested for safety and effectiveness.
William Newsome, the director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, says Poon has created the potential to develop what he calls “electroceutical” alternatives to some drug therapies. Newsome, who wasn’t involved in Poon’s research, says these mechanical implants could be more specifically targeted than drugs.
Poon agrees. She says her discovery will lead to a new type of programmable microimplants, which are sensors that would monitor vital bodily functions. It also would generate a breed of electrostimulators to change some neural signals in the brain, as well as systems to deliver medications directly to their targets.
Newsome says none of that would be possible without the wireless recharging technology that Poon has developed. “To make electroceuticals practical, devices must be miniaturized, and ways must be found to power them wirelessly, deep in the brain, many centimeters from the surface,” he said.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com