For those of you who have heard me talk about MEMS and medical/quality-of-life (QoL) applications — I don’t shy away from calling it “God’s work.” I still get misty-eyed when I think about my friend’s 10-year-old daughter, Anna, who has Type 1 Diabetes. Last year I told Anna about technology from MicroCHIPS that (thanks to the wonders of MEMS) will someday enable her to seamlessly and automatically monitor and dose her insulin without having to prick her finger and then calculate and administer a dose before every meal or snack. She’ll get her dignity back and she’ll improve her quality of life.
The Holy Grail in medicine is not diagnosing Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or even obesity — it’s figuring out what’s next and how to deal with it. MEMS technology can and will help to navigate that path. With MEMS technology fundamental to new medical/QoL devices and applications, understanding opportunities in this rapid-growth market is more important than ever. At the MEMS Executive Congress US 2012, we’ve lined up a panel of industry experts to discuss how MEMS continues to play a critical role in the development of new technologies that assist with patient monitoring, diagnostics, therapy and portable health care.
To preview our panel, I’ve invited my moderator, Jeannette F. Wilson, product line manager, sensor and actuator solution division (SASD) / AISG, Freescale Semiconductor, to introduce our panelists and share her thoughts on what they will discuss.
Q: Jeannette – who is on this fabulous MEMS in Medical/QoL panel?
A: First up is Robert Farra, president & COO of MicroCHIPS (the company you mentioned in your opening). Robert’s product experience covers drug delivery combination products, implantable glucose sensors, life support systems, ventricle assist devices, artificial hearts, intra-aortic balloons and pumps, minimally invasive laparoscopic, and endoscopic and surgical devices, as well as capital equipment and their corresponding single-use devices.
Next up is Paul Gerrish, senior director, technology and design, implantable microsystems technology, Medtronic. What impressed me is that his bio includes a statement that Medtronic’s Implantable organization is “energized by the belief that there is still tremendous opportunity for hardware solutions to contribute toward making a difference in improving the lives of people worldwide.” I love it.
And last but definitely not least is someone from your hometown of Pittsburgh: Ivo Stivoric, CTO & VP of new products, BodyMedia. As one of the original founders, he took his vision for the life-changing BodyMedia technology from conception to launch, first in the medical space and then to consumers. Today Ivo is spearheading the rapid expansion of the product line across a wide-range of healthcare applications such as disease management.
Q: Wow, that is an impressive panel! You will have your hands full moderating the discussion but I am confident that you are up to the task. Let’s talk about some of the issues that you’re going to discuss with the panelists. For example, how is MEMS enabling better health/QoL with regard to prevention, monitoring, management, rehab, and replacement?
A: MEMS continues to play a critical role in the development of new technologies that assist with patient monitoring, diagnostics, therapy and portable health care. Chronic diseases are an epidemic. It is possible to delay or prevent many chronic diseases associated with obesity and aging by remaining physically active. An activity monitor, for example, is a small device that records information about user’s physical activity patterns throughout the day. MEMS inertial sensors form the basis of many activity monitors that are designed to detect changes in force resulting from motion, tilt, positioning, shock and vibration.
Another possible side effect of aging and obesity is hypertension. MEMS pressure sensors enable the use of blood pressure monitoring conducted at home for the diagnosis and management of hypertension. Inertial sensors are also used to improve QoL for rehab and replacement. Inertial measurements provide motion tracking, posture and gait analysis to help daily movement and flexibility and to enhance athletic performance.
Q: What are your thoughts on where we will be in the next 5-10 years, in terms of MEMS advancing applications in medical/QoL?
A: Research is currently underway using MEMS technology for many innovative applications such as artificial pancreas, human-like motion for prosthetics, sensor arrays for rapid monitoring and diagnosis at home, and micropumps for drug delivery. MEMS pressure sensors will be used more frequently in invasive medical applications such as catheter tip sensors. While not all of these solutions will be in widespread use due to the rigorous testing required for medical devices, the trend toward using MEMS in health and medical applications will continue to enhance QoL.
Q: We are seeing a lot about how people are utilizing existing consumer devices (such as smartphones) to monitor their health. What are some examples of how they being adapted for QoL applications?
A: Existing medical applications such as telehealth gateways are becoming more connected. Telehealth gateways are data aggregators that tie various MEMS sensor solutions with back-end personal health records (PHR) via the cloud. Consumer devices containing MEMS sensors such as smartphones, pedometers, and other activity monitors can monitor activity and then transmit data to the cloud for use by physicians and patients.
As MEMS devices become integrated into healthcare applications, contextual awareness applications become more feasible. Augmented reality applications such as a ‘virtual nurse,’ will allow intuitive and rich interactivity between a patient and their environment and a patient and their medical support team — all in support of improving QoL.