Technology in today’s day and age is reaching the point where computers and information systems possess the ability to save numerous lives. We’ve seen hospitals automate their records under a main database, Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) scans find tumors and bone trauma, and pacemakers to control irregular heart rhythms. Now, this miniscule, 14 millimeter device possesses the ability to measure indicators, like proteins such as troponin in the body, leading to the early detection of a heart attack. Early detection allows for early EMS or hospital care.
The discovery of this technology at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland is monumental, yet it is only the beginning of a possible system that could be used by all humans in the near future. In addition to detecting heart attack signals, the chip can also analyze levels of glucose, lactate, and ATP, which can be used for other types of patients like diabetics. Upon implantation into the body, a battery patch attached to the skin charges the device by induction. The sensors in the device contain enzymes which react to specific chemicals in the blood in order to signal a potential problem. In the case of a heart attack, it is typical for the smooth muscle protein, troponin, to enter the blood a few hours before. Notification of a serious life-threatening problem via Bluetooth allows a person to discover the problem simply by picking up the cell phone alert.
Of course, this live-saving technology has not been perfected; there are some shortcomings to the device and its functions. For example, the device has a limited number of sensors, meaning it only can detect a couple health-related issues at the moment. On the bright side, this technology is just becoming a reality, and further research can lead to this device detecting many more bodily issues. In addition, the implanted device is only limited to the lifetime of the enzymes. After about a month or two, the enzymes in the device will not be able to perform their function; a major problem when the device needs to continuously monitor patients. A method to de-implant the device and re-implant for continued care is currently being researched thanks to a 100 million dollar research fund from Blackberry.
Another looming question on the technology is whether the application and insertion into the body is a patient right. Moreover, is it okay for humans to implant computer chips into their bodies capable of early diagnosis of a problem? There are those who fear the advancement of technology and the possibility of having a device such as this in the body. Personally, I see this discovery as a revolutionary method in preventing early death due to heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. I say if there’s a way of preventing at least half of the approximate 600,000 deaths a year, then the blood monitoring implant will be an amazing device that will hopefully be making an appearance in the very near future.
For more information, the article, along with a video featuring the EPFL scientists, can be found here.