Wireless implants that control or monitor bodily systems, functions, and organs or deliver medical payloads remain a top-priority for academic and private research labs. Minimally invasive implants offer appealing benefits although the technology is still in its early days. Because of the trauma of major implant surgery and concerns about power delivery, doctors often choose other measures. When a therapeutic procedure is potentially more dangerous than the problem it is intended to fix, who can blame physicians for seeking nonsurgical solutions? Chemotherapy, for example, subjects the whole body to massive toxin intake when a single small area may be all that needs intervention.
Scientists at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, have been working on microscopic electronic implants, also called electroceuticals, for years. In 2014 we wrote about ongoing work at the two schools with “radios on chips.” At the time AAA batteries were considered the best power sources. More recent work by Stanford electrical engineer Amin Arbabian demonstrates how safe ultrasound sound waves can provide power and carry instructions to tiny, rice-sized implants. Arbabian envisions ultrasound communications networks consisting of multiple tiny implants within the body that to create closed-loop systems to diagnose and treat disease. The team documented their work using mm-sized wireless implants to stimulate peripheral nerves in a study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems.
Arbabian’s work, along with his colleagues at Standford, Berkeley, and other institutions points to a future where wireless implants with various purposes play significant life stage roles in monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of a range of physiological issues.