Telehealth Physiotronic Chips, 2032

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Telehealth often refers to something simple like email communication between doctors and patients. But in J.-C. Chiao’s laboratory, the term invokes a science fiction movie.

Dr. Chiao, the Jenkins Garrett Professor of Electrical Engineering, and psychology Associate Professor Yuan Bo Peng are designing computer chips that can be placed inside the body, on the body, or in medical instruments to monitor and improve patient care. Using grants from Intel Corp., the professors are combining wireless communication, batteryless energy delivery, miniature sensors and stimulators, and physiological treatment methods into one system so patients and doctors can manage chronic diseases in real time.

In a nutshell, an electronic device inside the body interacts with body functions and communicates with portable electronics that are networked to caregivers. Current chips measure 1 millimeter by 1 millimeter, but versions five times smaller are on the horizon.

These devices will be small enough that you can inject them into the body with a needle,” says Chiao, who also holds the Janet and Mike Greene Endowed Professorship in Engineering. “We can treat a lot of conditions inside the body without using chemicals.”

The researchers believe their system could restore stomach motility in diabetics or control chronic pain brought on by migraines. It also could be used to battle bladder problems, depression, and epilepsy, as well as restore vision.

I think in 15 or 20 years we could have fully functioning systems to improve human welfare,” Chiao says.

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