Tiny implant tests blood without the needle prick

implant photo© EPFL

Blood is to your body what oil is to your car: it makes daily operations possible. When the body becomes ill, doctors can often diagnose the problem by analyzing the blood. But the body doesn't have a handy dipstick, so blood tests require the often unpleasant experience of being stuck with a needle, but maybe not for long.

Scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a tiny, portable personal blood testing laboratory that can provide provides an immediate analysis of substances in the body without the aid of a needle or other invasive device. Researchers say that this technology could make it cheaper and easier to deliver personalized care to the chronically ill.

The implant is only a few cubic millimeters in volume but contains five sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system. Outside the body, a battery patch provides 1/10 watt of power, through the patient’s skin – thus there’s no need to operate every time the battery needs changing.

Once implanted just under the skin, the tiny device analyzes the concentration of substances–-such as lactate, glucose-- in the blood. The prototype has been used to detect up to five proteins and organic acids simultaneously, and then transmit the results directly to a doctor’s computer or mobile phone for analysis.

Frequent blood tests are currently used to evaluate cancer patients' tolerance to a particular treatment dosage. EPFL scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara say that once developed for commercial use, their tiny implant could allow direct and continuous monitoring based on a patient's individual tolerance, and not on age and weight charts or weekly blood tests. In patients with chronic illness, the implants could send alerts even before symptoms emerge, and anticipate the need for medication.

"In a general sense, our system has enormous potential in cases where the evolution of a pathology needs to be monitored or the tolerance to a treatment tested," said de Micheli.

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