New Cybernetic Medicine? This Wireless Chip Is So Tiny It's Injectable!
The smallest-ever single-chip system resting in a hypodermic needle. (Credit: Chen Shi/Columbia Engineering)
Health Science Technology

New Cybernetic Medicine? This Wireless Chip Is So Tiny It’s Injectable!

Electronics are becoming imperceptibly small. Medical technology can take advantage of this progress. Medical professionals can place microscopic monitoring and treatment devices inside our bodies for continuous health control.

There are several exciting possibilities to utilize miniature technology to improve our health. Columbia University Engineers have demonstrated an extreme form of this technology, developing the tiniest single-chip system ever created.

The chip is a complete functioning electronic circuit. It’s so little it could be implanted with a hypodermic needle and used to measure temperature from within the body, and eventually much more like blood circulation pressure, glucose, and respiration.

Implantable medical devices are widely used to monitor and map biological signals, treat diseases, and support and enhance physiological functions. They’ve been changing healthcare and improving the standard of life for millions of people. Hence, researchers are increasingly interested in designing wireless, miniaturized implantable medical products for in vivo and in situ physiological monitoring.

So far, implanted electronics have been highly volume-inefficient because they generally require multiple chips, wires, packaging, external transducers, and batteries.

Not this new chip! On top of it being record-breakingly small, the implant breaks new ground by existing as a wholly functional, electronic circuit whose total volume is under 0.1 cubic millimeter – the dimensions of a dust mite and noticeable only under a microscope!

The team used ultrasound to power and keep in touch with the device wirelessly. They included a piezoelectric transducer in the chip to act as the “antenna,” catching the ultrasound waves.

The researcher demonstrated the implant’s capabilities in seven live mice. They employed ultrasound neurostimulation in the research and administered the chip via intramuscular injection with a syringe.

This proof-of-concept could only measure the animals’ temperature, but the team hopes to use it soon to monitor respiratory functions, blood pressure, and glucose levels too. They envision the injectable chip being used as an early warning system against future outbreaks. For example, by monitoring the body temperature of the masses to know where fever is breaking out.

New Cybernetic Medicine? This Wireless Chip Is So Tiny It's Injectable!
(Credit: Tumisu from Pixabay)

The study leader Ken Shepard, a Lau Family professor of biomedical engineering and professor of electrical engineering, said:

We wanted to see how far we could push the limits on how small a functioning chip we could make. This is a new idea of ‘chip as system’—this is a chip that alone, with nothing else, is a complete functioning electronic system. This should be revolutionary for developing wireless, miniaturized implantable medical devices that can sense different things, be used in clinical applications, and eventually approved for human use.

In a post-coronavirus world, it’s easy to see the benefit of injecting a harmless device capable of monitoring your temperature. Someday, this could be a reality – a world where everyone has a chip implanted as an early-caution system to warn officials if a pandemic is brewing.

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