By Mike Bassett
Engineers at Stanford University are working on ways to use ultrasound to send power–safely and wisely–to “smart chips” programmed to monitor a person’s health or treat pain.
According to an announcement from the school, researchers, led by Amin Arbabian, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, are developing an approach that involves beaming ultrasound at a device inside the body that can convert the sound waves into electricity to power the device, process and execute medical commands, and report activity by a tiny built-in radio antenna.
They also are collaborating with other researchers to develop ultrasound-powered implants that can be used for a variety of medical applications, such as treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
“Tiny, wireless nodes such as these have the potential to become a key tool for addressing neurological disorders,” Florian Solzbacher, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of Utah and director of its Center for Engineering Innovation, said in the announcement.
The working prototype developed by the researchers is about the size of the head of a ballpoint pen, but they hope to develop a next-generation implant about one-tenth its current size, with the goal of producing even smaller devices that could be used to create networks of electrodes to study the brains of animal in ways that aren’t possible today.
Arbabian also wants to test other applications using the technology to wirelessly power small implants deep inside the body.
“Many biosensing and stimulation applications require small, deep medical implants,” Arbabian said in the announcement. “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.”
Ultrasound continues to be touted as a tool that can improve patient health diagnosis and monitoring efforts. For instance, in an article published last spring in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, argue for the use of handheld ultrasound to replace the stethoscope.
Additionally, the use of transcranial Doppler ultrasound was found help to identify asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis patients who are at risk for stroke, according to a study published online last month in Radiology.