Medical Computer Chips
A medichip may be broadly defined as “a specialized, micro-fabricated computer chip that monitors, analyzes, compiles, or transmits information about biological materials or processes to assist in the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions.” Within this broad definition, there are different categories of medichip applications. The following are the three most common types of medichips:
1. External “Laboratory On a Chip”
One type of medichip is a miniature medical technology laboratory that is used externally to the body. A medichip “laboratory on a chip” can use microfluidic pumps or electrofluidics, capillary chromatography, synchronized cyclic electrophoresis, MicroElectoMechanical Systems (MEMS) and/or microcircuitry to analyze biologic fluids or tissues, microorganisms, cells, or genetic material. The small size of these medichips allows them to perform chemical and other analyses of smaller size specimens at a lower cost than is possible with full size medical equipment. Miniaturization also opens opportunities for reasonable cost parallel processing wherein multiple tests at done at the same time. This can speed up diagnosis of medical conditions. It can also help accelerate research and drug discovery.
2. Implantable Diagnostic Aid
A second type of medichip is a micro-implantable diagnostic tool that measures, monitors, analyzes, and transmits information concerning biological processes, materials, or organelles. For example, an implantable medichip may monitor information about a patient’s blood pressure (intravenous or intracardiac), glucose level, heart rhythm, electrical activity in the brain, blood chemistry levels, or other biological materials, organelles or processes. Medichips may be implanted in particular locations deep within the body. Their informational output may be wirelessly linked to an external computer and/or the internet, where it may be reviewed by clinicians. Implantable medichips create new opportunities for long-term, real-time remote monitoring of body functions for better identification of linkages between activities, symptoms, and medical conditions over time.
3. Implantable Medical Record
A third type of medichip functions as an implantable medical record that always accompanies the patient to improve the continuity and accuracy of medical information and to reduce the chances of medical errors due to mismatching of medical information with a patient. The core of this type of medichip is a read/write-able memory storage device that is implanted subcutaneously. To date, these types of medichips generally do not have any independent biological testing or monitoring capabilities.
The Future of Medichips
In the future, the distinctions between these different categories of medichips may blur and medichips may be developed that perform two or more of these functions. Medichips are not without controversy. There are privacy and safety concerns about medical information from such devices being abused and/or being accessed by people who have no right to it. These concerns must be addressed in order to safely realize the potential diagnostic and therapeutic benefits of medichips.