Engineers at Columbia University have created a tiny, wireless, and injectable chip used to monitor body processes powered by ultrasound. The device is said to be the smallest single-chip system that is a complete functioning electronic circuit. The implantable chip is visible only under a microscope and leads the way towards developing chips that can be injected into the body using a hypodermic needle.
Researchers are interested in wireless, miniaturized implantable medical devices for in vivo and in situ monitoring of all manner of medical conditions, including temperature, blood pressure, glucose, and respiration for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Current implanted electronics are a challenge and can’t be produced in high volume because they require multiple chips, packaging, wires, external transducers, and batteries for energy storage. Columbia researchers have designed a system they say is the world’s smallest single-chip system with a total volume of less than 0.1 mm3.
The entire system is about the size of a dust mite and is only visible under a microscope. To create the device, the team uses ultrasound to power and communicate with the sensor wirelessly. Study leader Ken Shepard says the breakthrough could be revolutionary in developing wireless, miniaturized implantable medical devices that can sense multiple things inside the body. The team believes the technology can be used for clinical applications and eventually approved for human use.
The team fabricated an antenna for the device communicating with and powering the sensor with ultrasound that sits directly on top of the chip. The entire chip is implantable and injectable, with no additional packaging necessary. It was manufactured at the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company with additional process modifications performed in the Columbia Nano Initiative clean room and the City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center Nanofabrication facility.
The ultimate goal of the research is to develop chips that can be injected into the body via a hypodermic needle and communicate back out of the body using ultrasound to provide information about local body processes. Currently, the chip measures body temperature, but the team is working on measuring more.