IT HAS BEEN almost 50 years since the release of the cult sci-fi classic film Fantastic Voyage. But better late than never, as real-life boffins in the US have designed a wirelessly powered, self-propelled medical device that can be swallowed by or injected into the patient.
At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), electrical engineer Ada Poon, an assistant professor at the Stanford School of Engineering, showed off the diminutive, wirelessly powered gadget, which can be directed to move through the blood. Once inside the patient the self-propelled device could be used to deliver drugs, perform diagnostics or even conduct internal microsurgery.
The technology centres on the use of a radio transmitter outside the body to transmit signals to the wireless device inside the body. The transmitter is magnetically coupled with an aerial on the micro-gadget such that any change in current flow in the transmitter produces a voltage in the coiled wire or, more accurately, it induces a voltage. The power can be used to drive the device or operate on-board electronics.
This means the power is delivered wirelessly using electromagnetic radio waves so there are no batteries to wear out and no power leads to get tangled up.
The breakthrough has been dubbed "swallow-the-surgeon medical care".
Poon said that applications include everything from diagnostics to minimally invasive surgeries. This could pave the way for next generation heart probes, chemical and pressure sensors, cochlear implants, pacemakers and drug pumps that would be stationary within the body.
The technology could also be used, Poon said, to make devices that travel through the bloodstream to deliver drugs and perform analyses. It could also be used to perform operations such as knocking out blood clots, like Fantastic Voyage. µ