Sub-Dermal Lab-On-Chip Takes Blood Analysis to a New Level

The human body consists of, and creates, a variety of chemical substances. The levels of these substances in our blood affect our bodily functions, and serve as good indicators of how healthy we are.

Jayaraman Kiruthi Vasan

What do you do when your physician prescribes certain blood tests for you? Obviously, you go to the nearest clinical laboratory, and get your blood sample drawn, analyzed, and reported.

But what if the measurement and analysis could be done inside your body, and your physician could view it on his Bluetooth-enabled device? And what if he could do so continuously, all while you are as mobile as you ever were?

A team of Swiss scientists from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) seems to have pulled this off, according to an article in The team devised a tiny chip that can be implanted just below the skin. This chip is about 14 mm by 2mm and has five miniature sensors that are capable of measuring various blood parameters.

The chip can communicate through Bluetooth with an external Bluetooth device, such as a smartphone, and send these measured values through the cellular network.

What does it measure?
It can measure just about anything in blood, says Giovanni de Micheli, the EFPL scientist who developed this chip along with Sandro Carrara.

How does it measure?
Each of the sensors is covered with an enzyme to capture the substance of interest, such as lactate, glucose, etc.

Potential applications
This chip, which is now a prototype, could be a boon to chemotherapy patients and oncologists. In spite of sending their patients in for occasional blood tests, for oncologists, deciding on optimal dosages of medication is difficult.

With this online sensor, the blood values can be monitored and trended, helping the dosage decision based on the patient’s individual tolerance level, rather than on external factors such as age, weight, etc.

Because the analysis continuously measures certain critical parameters and combinations, it could send out alerts even before conditions such as heart attacks emerge.

How is it powered?
It uses a power supply methodology similar to wireless charging (like what Nokia Lumia provides). The only difference is this is wireless powering. A battery patch fixed on the skin right above the chip provides the required power through a method called "inductive" powering. This means the skin need not be opened for a simple reason like changing the battery.

Do you think such a technology could have an impact on patient morbidity and mortality?

Wireless powering of the chip is a welcome feature. However, as the scientists put it, the enzymes covering the sensors have a limited lifespan, which is presently about a month and a half. What is your take on the lifetime of the enzymes? Would you like it to be in months or years?

Could this device pose sterility issues, and if so, what are your ideas on tackling them?

What else should developers do to ensure the external battery patch is compatible and conducive to the skin?

Stay relevant as a medical device packaging engineer

Jayaraman Kiruthi Vasan, Consultant - Electromechanical Systems, Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre, Indian Institute Of Technology, Madras

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