What Stanford’s implant find may mean

May 26, 2014 in Medical Technology

A Stanford University engineering group has come up with a way to manipulate deep body implants—such as pacemakers, nerve stimulators and brain stem devices—wirelessly. If this approach—which relies on extreme miniaturization coupled with non-traditional power transfers—works, it could mean a sharp reduction in highly-invasive surgeries to repair or make tweaks to such implants.

But there’s another implication of its success. It will force the industry to adopt a more effective authentication system and database access network. Consider a Boston-based woman with a brain implant, who is traveling to Hong Kong when the device malfunctions. After the unconscious woman is rushed to a local emergency room, ER staff needs to not only know of the existence of such equipment, but needs to have an immediate means of access. Complicating matters is that the security of such access must be top-notch, or the nightmare scenario of a murderer wirelessly accessing someone’s pacemaker becomes a reality.

The initial purpose of the technique is simply a power transfer, which serves the critical purpose of allowing for a much smaller battery inside the body. On the plus side, this could mean that a patient or medical staff could, in theory, keep such devices functioning infinitely. The down side, though, is that the devices would have much less internal power, meaning that they would fail more quickly should this wireless transfer either not happen or somehow glitch.

But the next envisioned phase goes far beyond merely offering a power supply and into a wireless ability to do just anything that could previously have been done during surgery.

William Newsome, director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, who is not involved in this trial but is quite familiar with it, said such treatments “could be more effective than drugs for some disorders because electroceutical approaches would use implantable devices to directly modulate activity in specific brain circuits. Drugs, by comparison, act globally throughout the brain.”

The essence of the discovery is something the university has dubbed mid-field wireless transfer. The idea is to hold about 10 centimeters from the in-body-device, which typically means the transfer device doesn’t even need to touch the patient’s skin, although it does have to be very near.

As a href=”https://stanford.app.box.com/s/kdfpb83s2vr9sxh5scxt/1/1963264528/16625659459/1″the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences/a detailed: “We use this method to power a microimplant (2 mm, 70 mg) capable of closed-chest wireless control of the heart that is orders of magnitude smaller than conventional pacemakers.


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