Wireless energy breakthrough may lead to new implantable med devices

Tiny body-implanted electrical health devices may one day replace some medications, given a breakthrough in wireless energy transfer by a Stanford electrical engineer.

Assistant Professor Ada Poon has created a wireless system to power a chip as small as a rice grain that may lead to "electroceutical" healthcare treatments, the school recently announced. Poon's research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The chip uses the same power approach that cell phones rely on to power a device implanted deep inside a human body. It theoretically eliminates the need for bulky power sources and recharging approaches necessary for today's medical devices such as pacemakers and nerve stimulators, according to Poon and her colleagues.

"We need to make these devices as small as possible to more easily implant them deep in the body and create new ways to treat illness and alleviate pain," Poon said.

A recent study reveals strong consumer interest and adoption of such wireless wearable sensor devices, with 81 percent stating they would wear a wearable monitoring device.

What's more, research published last spring determined remote management of heart failure patients with implantable defibrillators to be cost-effective compared to the conventional method of in-person evaluations.

Poon's wireless power system is the size of a credit card and blends the capabilities of near-field waves with far-field waves. So far it's been tested on a pig, and for implanting a tiny pacemaker in a rabbit; it is being prepped for human testing. Given safety and regulatory mandates, however, the technology is years from being used in a commercial medical device, according to Poon.

Still, she and others envision it being used for programmable micro implants from sensors to electrostimulators and drug delivery systems directly to affected areas.

"To make electroceuticals practical, devices must be miniaturized, and ways must be found to power them wirelessly, deep in the brain, many centimeters from the surface," said William Newsome, director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, who was not involved in the research. "The Poon lab has solved a significant piece of the puzzle for safely powering implantable microdevices, paving the way for new innovation in this field."

For more information:
- read the announcement
- here's the study's abstract