Medical MEMS is the newest frontier, with the FDA already having approved about a dozen MEMS-based health-monitoring devices, such as the BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System from Preventice (Minneapolis, Minn.), which attaches directly to the body with an adhesive strip, then transmits ECG, heart rate, respiration rate, and activity levels wirelessly to medical personnel 24/7, allowing the elderly to safely age-in-place as well as for patients to safely leave the hospital early -- thus alleviating hospital overcrowding.
"Our goal is to send the hospital home with the patient," said Michael Emerson, senior vice president of marketing at Preventice in his session entitled MEMS in Diagnostics and Therapeutics. "By using wearable devices and related tools for the diagnosis, treatment, and care-plan management, we are able to improve patient engagement, lower costs, and deliver better patient care."
The next frontier in MEMS for healthcare is implantable sensors, according to Alissa Fitzgerald, founder of A.M. Fitzgerald & Associates LLC (Burlingame, Calif.), whose company has provided dozens of clients with advice on the entire technology development cycle for MEMS devices, from business and IP strategy, to initial design, prototyping, and foundry transfer.
"MEMS will transform the future of healthcare and wellness by sensing human physiology more accurately, thereby enabling better diagnoses and more effective therapies," said Fitzgerald.
In her talk, titled Challenges of MEMS Integration into Medical Solutions, she outlined the bio-incompatibility challenges with silicon chips which must be encapsulated to protect the body from the sharp edges of chips as well as protect the inner workings of the chips from the corrosive effects of body fluids. She described the state-of-the-art in implantable MEMS devices today -- from the Debiotech (Lausanne, Switzerland) micro-fluidic pump for automatic monitoring and for dispensing insulin to diabetics, developed in cooperation with STMicroelectronics, to implantable blood pressure monitors being developed by CardioMEMS (Atlanta).
Replenish's implantable micro-fluidic pump can be implanted inside the eye to dispense precise nanoliter-sized doses of drugs as needed for up to nine months before needing a refill.
In the final session, a panel discussion for which I acted as moderator, titled Future of MEMS and Sensors in Healthcare and Wellness, Blake Axelrod, a MEMS process engineer at Replenish Inc. (Pasadena, Calif.) described one of the most ambitious implantable MEMS devices to date -- a micro-fluidic pump that can be implanted inside the eye to dispense precise nanoliter-sized doses of drugs as needed for up to nine months before needing a refill (see figure).