The world’s tiniest medical lab could soon be implanted under patients’ skin to detect illnesses before symptoms even begin.
It measures at just 14mm long, and uses a mobile phone to update medical staff on a patient’s health status.
It was made by a team at the Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne, and they say it could be used on patients undergoing chemotherapy or for those with heart conditions, as it could warn of an impending heart attack just by monitoring the chemicals in the bloodstream.
Though it is only a few cubic millimeters in volume, it is able to hold five sensors, a radio transmitter and power delivery system.
The device is charged through a battery patch worn outside the body, providing 1/10 watt of power through the patient’s skin so there is no need to operate each time the device needs a power boost.
“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,” EPFL scientist Giovanni de Micheli said.
To monitor a substance in the body, like glucose, lactate or ATP, each of the sensors is covered with an enzyme.
“Potentially, we could detect just about anything,” he said. “But the enzymes have a limited lifespan, and we have to design them to last as long as possible.”
For now, the enzymes being tested are good for about a month and a half.
“In addition, it’s very easy to remove and replace the implant, since it’s so small.”
The device would be particularly useful for those with chronic illnesses, as it could alert doctors of their need for treatment before symptoms emerge.
“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,” he said.
But making the tiny laboratory was not easy.
“It was not easy to get a system like this to work on just a tenth of a watt.”
They hope that it will be commercially available in the next four years.