BOSTON – Engineers need to develop a new generation of biological sensors to attack genetic causes of cancer. That’s just one of several medical conditions where electronics will play an increasing role, said a medical electronics expert at Freescale during DESIGN East here.
Antigen and antibody sensors can detect viruses that could reduce the spread of cancer cells, said Jose Fernandez Villasenor, a medical doctor and engineer with Freescale Semiconductor. Researchers believe certain viruses can insert their DNA into human cells, healing genetic damage that leads to cancer, he said.
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The antigen sensors are just one of several classes of sensors in development at Freescale labs and elsewhere. Others check for specific ions or the Ph level of body fluids, for example.
“There’s a wide market for these in communicable and genetic diseases,” said Villasenor who serves as a medical product marketing and engineering manager at Freescale. “We need high sensitivity sensors--including sensors that can be implanted--for cancer, endocrine, renal and pulmonary disorders,” he said.
Villasenor listed a dozen other electronics devices the medical community needs to address non-communicable diseases that cause as many as 36 million deaths each year. They included digital stethoscopes that can “detect small changes in heart sounds [not picked up by human hearing] that will help make a better diagnosis,” he said.
Villasenor holds degrees in both medicine and electrical engineering.
Pulse oximeters are becoming widely used to show blood oxygen levels in treating respiratory diseases. However spirometers that measure the volume of air patients breath are less widely available. “I don’t see enough of these and I don’t know why,” he said.
Engineers are still trying to develop more accurate optical sensors that could someday replace glucose blood sensors diabetes patients currently use. However, such devices will face market challenges from entrenched providers of the blood sensor strips that command a huge market, Villasenor said.
Freescale is pursuing products that enable an industry vision of continuous home health care, aiming to detect or prevent the onset of major diseases. The vision consists of a wide variety of test devices connected over various links such as Bluetooth and Zigbee to home gateways such as smartphones and gateways then out to health care providers using cloud services.
So far only two classes of medical devices have been defined under the new Bluetooth Low Energy standard, but more are expected in 2013. “I personally think Bluetooth Low Energy will grow the most in the short term and is a key trend to watch,” he said.
Freescale also distributed a reference design called Nacuri. The handheld device supports tracking as many as six health and fitness metrics.Related stories:
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