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Kenichi Takahata works on the Micro Electro Discharge Machine in his laboratory at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak)
Kenichi Takahata works on the Micro Electro Discharge Machine in his laboratory at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak)

Discussion

Q&A: Implantable medical devices Add to ...

Half man, half machine: it looks like we're headed that way, at any rate.

The future of medical technology lies with the development of tiny devices, small enough to be implanted under the skin and in the heart, that integrate electronics and mechanics

Kenichi Takahata, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia, has already developed a “smart” version of the cardiac stent, a tube that physicians implant to expand clogged coronary arteries. His team's stainless-steel prototype contains micro-sensors that wirelessly monitor conditions inside the arteries and warn if the stent is failing.

More related to this story

Dr. Takahata is also working on a wireless implantable drug-delivery device. Controlled by radio-frequency power, the micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) implant is just 1 centimetre wide by 1 millimetre thick. By turning on its micro-nozzles, a clinician can dispense a drug at a targeted location inside the body. Dr. Takahata and his colleagues have fashioned the device from a biocompatible polymer so its presence doesn’t harm the patient.

This biomedical implant may lend itself to cancer treatment, Dr. Takahata explains. Because it pinpoints disease sites and delivers drugs in such precise doses, it could dramatically improve chemotherapy – with far milder side effects than traditional methods.

So what does the future hold, and how soon can we expect these medical marvels to be available to us all? Dr. Takahata joined us for an online chat at to answer these questions and more.

Niamh O'Doherty - Hi everyone. My name is Niamh O'Doherty, and I'll be moderating this live chat with Kenichi Takahata. Please feel free to send in your questions now.

12:59

Niamh O'Doherty - Readers, I'd like to welcome Dr. Kenichi Takahata, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia. Ken, could you explain a little bit about your work with implantable devices?

1:01

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Hi Niamh, I am here.

1:03

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Ken. So you've recently developed a smart version of the cardiac stent - could you tell us a little about it?

1:04

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Sure, our research is involved in devices called micro electro-mechanical systems, so called MEMS.

1:05

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

MEMS is miniaturized devices that integrate microelectronics and micromechanics, and we are applying this technology to medical devices including implantable ones.

1:05

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Ken. Now, onto our reader questions.... first one comes from Steve.

1:05

[Comment From Steve]

Is it easy to fabricate these devices? Costs?

1:08

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Steve - fabrication is not easy, it involves manufacturing techniques similar to those used for making integrated circuits like microprocessors. important aspect in this is to make sure biocompatibility to be implantable.

1:08

[Comment From Steve]

How about delivery efficiency? Like if I want to deliver 500mg to a specific location, does it deliver 500mg?

1:10

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

steve- yes a major benefit in mems-based drug delivery is that we can precisely control the amount and timing of drug delivery.

1:10

[Comment From Sebastian Wilk]

I'm wondering about implantable deep brain stimulation devices. Has there been any progress for patients with movements disorders like Ballismus, etc? I've seen devices for Parkinson's pts in Europe. Has there been any studies done for pts who've had TBI?

1:13

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Sebastian - deep brain stimulation is one excellent application of mems. my research is not directly related to it, but it is effective in improving motor symptom of Perkinson's disease. Not sure about the particular case you noted.

1:14

Niamh O'Doherty - Ken, one question a lot of people seems to have is about the safety of wireless technology. Now, this might be a worst case scenario, but what's to stop an iPhone or BlackBerry interfering with a medical device, for example?

1:18

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Niamh- that is a good question – devices need to be developed in a form a secure system maybe through encoded way. if implants reply on RF communication, frequency range used is made different so there is no cross talk.

1:19

Niamh O'Doherty - Good to know! How about the future of these devices? What will the industry look like in, say, 2050? Will we all be part-person, part-machine?

1:22

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Well, I personally view that implants are basically to support life of diseased people. These devices are becoming smarter and smarter thanks to novel technologies like mems. I hope the technology continue to help improving their quality of life.

1:22

Niamh O'Doherty - Can you tell us what you're working on now Ken?

1:23

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Sure, in terms of implantable devices, we have a few projects right now.

1:25

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

One is smart stent that you asked at the beginning - this new class of stent is integrated with micro sensors to monitor the device after implantation. Here stent itself is used as an radio frequency antenna.

1:28

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Another is related to wireless drug delivery device that Steve asked. The device has microscopic valves to control drug release in a well controlled manner. This device is radio controlled.

1:28

Niamh O'Doherty - What would this wireless drug delivery device be used for, Ken?

1:30

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

For certain disease, localized disease, systemic administration of drug may not be effective enough and could lead to severe side effect.

1:30

[Comment From Guest]

Thanks for your answers -- how do you ensure high efficiency delivery? Is there an specific antibody or marker you use?

1:31

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

miniaturized drug delivery device can be implanted to specific location of disease such as cancer to achieve targeted drug delivery.

1:33

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

efficacy needs to be verified through various test processes..

1:34

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

yes that may include use of such markers to visualize the delivery.

1:35

[Comment From Guest]

Thanks, but would you want it to be delivered orally so that it'll be less invasive? I suspect implanting this technology, some people might feel that it can be risky, especially if they're a cancer patient.

1:36

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Guest- it is placed through surgical procedure rather than oral path, to make sure the device is positioned at the right location adjacent to diseased site.

1:38

[Comment From Barry Bernacki]

What do you know about security and remote activation/control of these devices? I am aware of issues with medtronic insulin pumps. Your thoughts?

1:40

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Bernacki- yes that is related one of previous questions. device needs to be developed in a secure communication interface.

1:42

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Back to projects we are working on, another one is a wireless sensor for brain aneurysm - this is to detect embolization failure.

1:42

Niamh O'Doherty - Ken, could you tell us when you expect these new projects to be ready for the market?

1:44

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

It depends. For new projects it may take years to be available in the market.

1:45

Niamh O'Doherty - Are there any other areas of medical implantation you plan on working on?

1:47

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Currently we have three foci i noted, but yes we are looking at application of mems drug delivery to pain management area.

1:48

Niamh O'Doherty - Anything else you'd like to discuss before we wrap up this chat?

1:50

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Pain control is important in various areas such as cancer therapy and post operation pains and miniaturized devices may help improving implementations of this kind.

1:52

Niamh O'Doherty - Any more questions, readers?

1:54

Niamh O'Doherty - Okay, looks like we're just about ready to wrap this up. Thanks very much for your time Ken. Any final thoughts on the matter?

1:56

[Comment From Kenichi Takahata]

Yes, the future of implants is bright! Thanks Niamh for arranging this discussion.

1:58

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks everyone for reading and contributing!





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