Health Alert: Living chip, a tiny health sensor

NATIONAL - It sounds like science fiction, but researchers are developing a miniature, implantable sensor that will use living cells to measure chemical changes in the body. Not only will it detect changes, but the biosensor will notify doctors about dangerous changes to their patients, such as heart failure patients or diabetics.

The technology is still in the bench stage, however human clinical trials with the tiny alarm system are expected in the next ten years.

Aisha O'Mally loves her walks. But a few years ago, her heart was failing. "I remember being just tired, tired. I couldn't go up the stairs; I was coughing a lot. I couldn't sleep lying down."

Aisha's heart deteriorated to the point she needed a heart transplant. "There's so many things that are going on in your body that you're not aware of, and sometimes the doctors aren't aware of until blood work or until you're feeling completely sick."

Detecting these changes before symptoms is the goal of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. They're developing an implantable sensor that reads internal chemistry. Dr. Rosero says, "Those things that we're looking at are hormones and proteins that get released into the blood stream and into the tissues when the heart's under stress, when the body wants to make a change."

A so-called "living chip," containing a patient's cells, will be placed in a device just under the skin. Then the chip's cells will interpret what's happening inside. Dr. Rosero says, "Then the device would serve as a sensor where they could relay information to either a small communication device they can wear on their belt, say, 'It's your medications. You should adjust them this way because for you, today is a different day.'"

Or the device would alert a doctor to a patient's changing needs. Dr. Rosero says, "The goal, whole goal, is to improve the quality of life and keep them out of the hospital. But it also opens up a whole new area where it's no longer kind of reactive medicine."

It's a medical advance that patients like Aisha could benefit from in the future.

Though human tests are a decade away, the living chip will first be used to manage heart failure patients. Down the road, researchers anticipate the device could help diabetes patients control their disease, or chemotherapy patients receive the optimal dose of chemo at the lowest toxicity.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle