Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) researchers work to implant the chips that will sow tomorrow's medical revolution

March 9, 2010

As reported today in the MIT News Office "Revolutionizing medicine, one chip at a time, Low-power computer chips allow engineers to design wearable and implantable devices to monitor patients," researchers in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, MTL, have been building the infrastructure to allow for a major new generation of biomedical microelectronic devices.

“Microelectronics have the potential to reduce the cost of health care in the same way they reduced the costs of computing in the 1980s and communications in the 1990s,” says Dennis Buss, former vice president of silicon technology development at Texas Instruments and currently a visiting scientist at MIT. On a limited scale, this is already taking place. For example, one of the first successful applications of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to medicine was the development of $10 disposable blood pressure sensors, which have been in use for over a decade and replaced sensors that cost hundreds of dollars.

EECS Professor Charles Sodini, one of the MTL researchers involved in the effort, says the burgeoning field holds great potential for MIT and the greater Boston area because of the opportunities for collaboration between engineers, physicians and industry. “I want to see Boston become the Silicon Valley of medical electronic systems,” he says.

The market for MEMS for biomedical applications is more than $1 billion, and that could grow close to 100-fold by 2015, according to a 2006 market report from MedMarket Diligence.

The groundwork for developing and implementing these monitoring microchip devices has been laid through the work of MTL Director Anantha Chandrakasan. The Chandrakasan lab has developed ultra-low-power chips which will interface to the biomedical sensors, providing signal processing, energy processing and communications.

Ultimately, Sodini and others at MTL hope to use that chip as the core of a device that can monitor a range of vital signs — heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, pulse oxygenation and temperature. For now, they’re starting with a monitor that measures and records electrocardiograms (ECGs).

Read more:

MIT News Office, March 9, 2010: Revolutionizing medicine, one chip at a time

Chandrakasan Lab website: Platforms for ultra low-power biomedical electronics