Stanford creates wireless, implantable “Innerspace” medical device
Engineers at Stanford have finally managed to create a wirelessly powered and controlled device that’s small enough to travel through your bloodstream. Future versions will carry sensors and drug delivery systems, for the ultimate in pin-point accurate medicine.
The breakthrough, made by Ada Poon, is depressingly simple. Basically, for some 50 years, it has always been believed that human flesh, muscle, and bone absorb high-frequency radio waves. Low-frequency waves penetrate well, but to power a device using low-frequency waves (using induction) you need a very long antenna — something on the order of a few centimeters, which is obviously too large. Poon, who is obviously an outside-the-box thinker, decided to re-do the math — and what do you know: high-frequency radiation around 1GHz actually penetrates the human body very well. As a result, Poon’s wireless device can use an antenna that’s only two millimeters square — small enough to visit almost any portion of our vasculature.
The end result is a minute device not unlike the vessel in Innerspace that’s capable of traveling 0.5cm per second. It is controlled using a wireless transmitter, which would presumably be held by a surgeon or a nurse. In the future, you might be able to use some kind of walk-in machine where a computer/robot controls the device. The next step for Ada Poon and her team at Stanford will be to attach sensors or a drug delivery system. Before we know it, Poon’s device could be whizzing around your blood vessels looking for build-ups of arterial plaque, signs of blood clots, and targeting cancerous tumors with drugs.
With the continued miniaturization of computer chips, there has been a lot of progress in this area recently. Just last week MIT unveiled a wirelessly controlled chip that sits under your skin and delivers drugs. The idea is that these chips might one day contain a whole “pharmacy” of drugs, and that doctors could control them from a distance using telemedicine. Last year we wrote about self-assembling nanobots that could one day ferry drugs around your body.