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Wearable-Implant Diagnostics Device in Development

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(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

7 September 2017. A university engineering lab is developing a device combining a sensor chip implanted under the skin and wrist band to diagnose serious diseases and transmit the data. The three-year project, led by University at Buffalo electrical engineering professor Josep Jornet, is funded by a $1 million grant from National Science Foundation.

Jornet and colleagues seek to extend the ability of common wearable devices like wrist bands to capture and transmit more vital medical data, particularly when coupled with sensors that can screen for diseases. So far, wearable devices are useful for capturing basic indicators of fitness or overall health, with their value expanded by transmission to the cloud and combining those results with others. Adapting this technology for more detailed medical data is limited by the state of current monitoring devices that tend to be too large or heavy for practical use.

The Buffalo team is instead proposing implanted sensors under the skin that analyze an individual’s blood for indicators of serious disease. The sensors can then send wireless signals to a wrist band that like today’s fitness bands can relay the data to a smartphone, for further analysis or transmission to the cloud. The researchers underscore that a system of this kind would be used only in cases where there’s a high risk of the disease, from previous cases or family history, for example.

“We are developing an integrated system,” says Jornet in a university statement, “that will provide a faster and more accurate way to diagnose and monitor diseases than conventional technologies by leveraging the state-of-the-art in nano-bio-photonics and wireless communications.”

The key new element in this system is the implanted sensor. The researchers propose advancing optical detectors with metallic nanoparticles fit into a tiny gold biochip, about 10 microns square, that read variations in light waves to determine the absence or presence of specific proteins in the blood. The team is also studying ways to optimize the performance of the chip inside human tissue, and more general human factors in the system design, such as the longevity of the chip over time.

Another key element is the system’s software, including a set of algorithms written to calibrate, collect, and process the optical signals, residing in the wrist band. The project includes routines to convert the signals to meaningful data and share the information with health care providers.

For this project, the targets are indicators of lung cancer, with Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a cancer research center in Buffalo, as one of the partner organizations. The other partners are Intel Corporation and Garwood Medical Devices, also in Buffalo, a developer of medical implants for wound healing. Jornet is one of a team of researchers that works with Garwood.

The researchers will also develop an entire test environment for the system. The Buffalo team expects to test the chips in the lab with blood samples from people with lung cancer, as well as test in tissue samples and with cadavers.

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