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With few exceptions, electronic devices have been shrinking year on year, and although healthcare may have been slow on the uptake of modernisation, the industry looks set to take on the big tech giants in terms of technological advances. Below we've unearthed five micro-devices set to change the face of healthcare.

Lab-on-a-chip

What if you could carry around all the equipment and reagents used in a modern science lab in your back pocket? Researchers have been working on microchips that look set to do just that, allowing hundreds of reactions to occur in parallel in the palm of a hand. Using an intricate labyrinth of microchannels, liquids and gasses can be manipulated on a micro scale, allowing the chips to perform tasks such as mixing, reacting, product formation, separations and dilutions, assays and removal of waste materials, with the ability to combine several chips together to perform more complex reactions.

So how could microchips be used in the future? According to PMLive, processes such as taking a blood sample, sending it off for analysis and potentially waiting weeks for the results could soon be taking place in the doctor’s office, with results in a matter of minutes. “These devices are quicker, use fewer sample and reagent volumes, and can tap into unique physical properties of microscale fluid flow.”

Companies including Capiler, Gyros, Fluidigm and Nanostream, are already developing microfluid devices for drug discovery. DNA Electronics, a company focusing on microfludic-based DNA testing, can already provide the results of a DNA test within 20 minutes using a similar device.

E-noses

In sniffing out illegal substances, dogs are a common feature. But what if that sense of smell could be used to sniff out diseases? The science behind this idea is based around the human metabolism, which could see chemical sensors – or e-noses as they are referred to by some – soon used in the early diagnostics of diseases, eradicating the need for biopsies or CT scans.

The body produces chemicals known as volatile organic compounds that evaporate on the breath or are removed as other waste products. “For example, cancerous cells have a different metabolism from normal cells and therefore emit a different pattern of chemicals and a different odour,” Billy Boyle, co-founder of Owlstone Nanotech told PharmaTimes.

Using this new understanding of the human metabolism and diseases, pocket-sized electronic chemical sensors that breathalyse specific disease biomarkers are now in the early stages of development, with the hope that they could be used to detect the likes of lung cancer, TB, asthma, cystic fibrosis, COPD, breast cancer, kidney and liver diseases, and even organ failure.

As a cheap, hand held device that would be easily available in doctors’ surgeries, e-noses could revolutionise the way diseases are detected, allowing for quicker treatment.

Healing chips

Technology inside the body is no longer a space-age concept, with patients already using cyber-implants that can even communicate directly with smartphone apps to monitor and treat disease. So what’s the next step for implantable devices?

Scientists at Boston University in America are developing a new bionic pancreas which uses tiny sensors on an implantable needle which could talk directly to a smartphone app to monitor blood sugar levels in diabetics.

And on this side of the Atlantic, scientists are in the midst of developing a capsule to monitor the fat levels in obese patients and generate genetic material that will make them feel full when these levels get too high.

Talking Pills

Not only does the future suggest capsules that can monitor your body levels but there’s also been suggestions that future pills will talk to your smartphone AND your doctor, using microprocessors to send them a message from inside your body. This will enable the pills to share information with your doctor, allowing them to know if you’re taking your medications properly and whether they are having the desired effect.

Bill Gates’ Implantable Birth Control

Implantable birth control isn’t a new concept, but electronic implantable birth control looks set to be a real thing in the near future. The Gates Foundation is supporting a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) project, which will create an implantable female computer-contraceptive. The electronic contraceptive can last up to 16 years, but don’t worry, it can be controlled by an external remote control, allowing the device to be turned on and off for those who are planning to start or add to their family.

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