Stanford using ultrasound to power wireless 'smart chip' implant

Stanford engineers are trying to make this medical chip implant even smaller, to one-tenth of the size pictured here.--Courtesy of Stanford University

Stanford University seems to have found a niche in developing tiny wireless implants. In the latest innovation, the university announced that it is working on methods of beaming ultrasound to power implanted "smart chips" for the treatment of conditions like Parkinson's disease.

"Many biosensing and stimulation applications require small, deep medical implants," said electrical engineer professor Amin Arbabian, in a university statement. "We believe our platform provides the recipe for building small devices that can be powered wirelessly and programmed to perform a wide array of tasks."

The smart chip is about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, but Arbabian and other Stanford engineers are trying to create an implant one-tenth that size.

Ultrasounds powers the chip implant via piezoelectricity, or electricity caused by pressure, the release explains. Mounted to the chip is a small piece of piezoelectric material that moves in a springlike function when struck by ultrasound waves. "The implant is like an electrical spring that compresses and decompresses a million times a second, providing electrical charge to the chip," said graduate student Marcus Weber in the release.

Stanford wants to utilize the chip to run sensors or deliver electricity to the site of pain. The implant has a built-in radio antenna to transmit information.

The device is an example of the growing trend of "electroceuticals" and has many applications toward studying or treating conditions of the central nervous system and brain, something which the government is pushing via the $79 million BRAIN initiative.

"U.S. and European brain initiatives are pushing for a more complete understanding of the central nervous system," said Florian Solzbacher, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, in the release. "This requires being able to interface with cells using arrays of micro implants across the entire 3D structure of the brain."

Led by one of FierceMedicalDevices' women in med tech, Ada Poon, Stanford has been developing a variety of mini wireless implants lately. Earlier this year Poon's lab built an experimental, pacemaker-like device that is smaller than a grain of rice and can be wirelessly charged from outside the body.

- read the news release

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