Tiny Robots Swim Through Bloodstream

Tiny Robots Swim Through Bloodstream

Scientists unveiled robotic medical devices powered by wireless technology, illustrating the key role mobile technology plays in modern health care innovation.

Stanford electrical engineer Ada Poon spearheaded the project, inventing implantable machines, powered by wireless technology, that are small enough to traverse veins. These injectable machines can carry out medical tasks, gather diagnostics, even deliver drugs into the bloodstream, according to Stanford University.

“Such devices could revolutionize medical technology,” said Poon. “Applications include everything from diagnostics to minimally invasive surgeries.”

Poon’s breakthrough came when she realized body cells conduct electricity poorly, but are unexpectedly receptive to radio waves. The revelation spurred her team to develop a remote radio-control for medical devices advanced enough to perform minor surgeries, take diagnostics and analyze patients.

This medical advance points to a larger technological revolution happening in medicine, demonstrated by a growing number of doctors and nurses using tablets and smartphones to research and communicate with patients, and a number of health services apps are becoming popular.

For example, an iPhone service allows doctors to check EKGs with their smartphones, allowing for quicker analysis and diagnosis. Doctors are also diagnosing strokes using smartphones, using an app that displays a 3D image of the patient’s brain as the stroke occurs.

The Food and Drug Administration approved a smartphone-enabled ultrasound device, another illustration that medical advances are making strides along with advances in mobile technology.

In addition, pharmaceutical companies are developing a “smart pill” to take patients’ stats, similar to how the wireless robots could gather data from within the bloodstream. The pills need further testing before they hit the market, and are subject to FDA approval.

The Stanford team’s medical robots are also still in development, and they will face regulatory scrutiny when they enter the health care market. The FDA is struggling to catch up with recent medical advances centered on mobile technology, and additional guidelines are on the horizon to regulate medical apps.

Since Stanford’s robots run on wireless technology, the FDA may take an especially detailed look into the effect high-frequency radio waves have on body tissue, since those waves power the devices.

This breakthrough underlines the medical community’s embrace of mobile technology, and Poon’s discovery of human tissue’s receptiveness to radio waves highlights how much is left to learn about how mobile technology can affect people. As these advances continue, government agencies will likely work to adopt regulations to balance safety with their desire to improve medical care.

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