Miniature wireless device provides laboratory-grade blood test

A tiny implantable device developed by Swiss scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is designed to act as a portable, personal blood testing laboratory to provide immediate analysis of substances that can then be transmitted to a doctor over a cellular phone network.

The device, which measures about 14mm and is implanted just under the skin, is composed of five sensors, a coil for wireless power as well as miniaturized electronics for radio communication, according to an announcement from EPFL. The implant emits radio waves over a safe frequency which then transmits the information via Bluetooth to a mobile phone.

Researchers say the device can detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously. Although still in the experimental stages, the prototype has already been tested in the laboratory for five different substances, and according to researchers, has "proved as reliable as traditional analysis methods."

To capture the targeted substance in the body--such as lactate, glucose, or ATP--each sensor's surface is covered with an enzyme that lasts for about a month and a half. "Potentially, we could detect just about anything. But the enzymes have a limited lifespan," argues Giovanni de Micheli, a scientist at EPFL, which is one of two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology and is located in Lausanne, Switzerland.

According to the article, the implant could be particularly useful in monitoring patients undergoing chemotherapy. Currently, oncologists use occasional blood tests to evaluate their patients' tolerance to a particular treatment dosage. In these conditions, it is very difficult to administer the optimal dose. However, the device will "allow direct and continuous monitoring based on a patient's individual tolerance, and not on age and weight charts or weekly blood tests," says De Micheli.

In addition, for patients with chronic illness, the implant could send alerts even before symptoms emerge, and anticipate the need for medication. Researchers hope their device will be commercially available over the next four years.

In related news, a low-cost mobile device has been found to provide a blood-based HIV test with laboratory-level accuracy and real-time synchronization of patient health record data. Researchers say the portable solution could serve as an alternative for those in resource-limited healthcare settings that don't have access to laboratory diagnostic equipment and patients' health records.

The mobile device combines cell-phone and satellite communication technologies with fluid miniaturization techniques for performing enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a fundamental tool of clinical immunology used as an initial screen for HIV detection.

To learn more:
- read the announcement