Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's a small world after all - Miniature medical devices

The Phoenix Chip packs a lot in a
one cubic millimeter space.
Last week, it was reported that researchers out of the University of Michigan had created "the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system." The Phoenix Chip is designed to be used as a medical monitoring device that takes pressure readings from the eye of a glaucoma patient. The chip has a photovoltaic cell in it that will charge the device in as little as an hour and a half if outdoors. The Phoenix Chip enters an extreme sleep mode and only wakes up every 15 minutes to take a reading, using only about 5 nanowatts of energy per reading. That's pretty awesome. The researchers have been quick to point out the potential use of this device is broad and that it can be used to measure stresses in materials such as bridges or particulate levels in gases such as pollution. These applications could allow for larger devices, though the ideas used for power gating and frequency tuning can be used to produce a useful monitoring device. They also claim surveillance capabilities, but I'm having a harder time imagining that taking off as successfully.

This would be injected into a vein
in the leg and then carefully
maneuvered to the heart.
Another miniature medical device that is being developed and has medical-breakthrough potential is a tic-tac-sized pacemaker that would eliminate the need for invasive surgery. Medtronic is hoping to be able to inject the device via catheter. "You can almost shoot these things in like bullets," claims Stephen Oesterle, Medtronic's senior vice president for medicine and technology. Having a lead fail results in having to either populate the vessels with more leads, or remove old leads, which can be a risky business and end up tearing vessels, leading to a much bigger issue. Shrinking the device enough to place it exactly where the electricity is needed would eliminate the need for leads. This us why an end goal, and a major driving point for the whole project, is to eliminate the need for leads, as they are the most invasive component in current pacemakers.

It's pretty amazing how medical instruments are getting more accurate and efficient while at the same time being produced in sizes that better accommodate the needs they are addressing. Another benefit of this trend is more affordable and accessible medical attention since the materials would be reduced and the space required to operate can be also reduced without the need for bulky surgical instruments.


  1. I think you should probably put some sources on your articles.

  2. It's all original thought, obviously. I do mention in the article who was doing the research/development, though maybe including sources at the end wouldn't be a bad thing.