How Semiconductors are Transforming Healthcare

Why do they matter? / Why should I care? / June 10, 2014

Technology has led to incredible breakthroughs in healthcare. Unlocking the complexities of the genomic code, rapid advancements in telemedicine and robotics, and breakthroughs in stem cell research are just a few examples.

But the ever-increasing power and sophistication of semiconductors are directly leading to even more promising capabilities in the Hyperconnected Age. In the nascent but rapidly developing field of bioelectronics,[1] devices are quickly expanding beyond what can be worn on the wrist, such as the Fitbit or Jawbone Up. Proteus Digital Health,[2] for example, has created an ingestible chip that communicates with a sensor placed on the patient’s skin to monitor heart rate, sleep patterns, and levels of medication coursing through the bloodstream. This data gives doctors and nurses a more complete picture of a patient’s treatment path.

In January, Google announced it had developed a “smart” contact lens.[3] The lens has a tiny wireless chip and sensors that measure glucose levels—a potentially life-changing breakthrough for people with diabetes, who currently must monitor their glucose levels by constantly pricking their fingers. The contact lens would send alerts to wearers’ smartphones or other devices to warn them when glucose levels cross certain thresholds. The company is currently seeking FDA approval for the device.

Meanwhile, Intel has also joined the fray, announcing in May a new “Make it Wearable” initiative,[4] challenging students, engineers, programmers, and other developers to push the boundaries of bioelectronics.

Though still in its early days, optimism for the potential power of bioelectronics is high: a recent study from Tufts University indicates that bioelectronics could be used to stop the growth of cancerous tumors.[5] According to a report from BCC Research,[6] the market for wearable devices will reach $30 bn by 2018.


Photo credit: Google Blog

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June 10, 2014