Courtesy of Arbabian Lab/Stanford School of Engineering

Ultrasound-powered chip monitors diseases and delivers therapies

October 21, 2014
by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter
Engineers at Stanford University have developed a prototype of a "smart chip" powered by ultrasound that can be implanted inside of a patient's body to deliver therapies and report results.

The chip is powered by piezoelectricity — a type of electricity generated by pressure. In this case, the pressure was created by directing ultrasound waves at a small piece of piezoelectrical material on the chip, which caused the material’s molecular structure to compress. When the pressure subsides, the molecular structure springs back into shape and creates a small electrical charge — enough to power the chip.

It then processed and performed medical commands including monitoring biological processes and delivering therapies. Then it reported when the commands were completed by using a built-in radio antenna.

The researchers decided to use ultrasound to power the chip because it's safe to use in certain applications including fetal imaging, and it can also produce enough power for implants that are less than a millimeter in size.

Currently, the chip is about the size of a ballpoint pen, but Amin Arabian, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the university, and his team are partnering with two other colleagues at the university who have expertise in ultrasonics in order to create the next generation of the chip that will be one-tenth the size.

They're goal is to create smaller devices that can be used to produce a network of electrodes to study the brains of lab animals in ways that were never done before.

The team will also be partnering with other researchers to investigate using the chips for other applications including treating the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and studying the central nervous system.

"U.S. and European brain initiatives are pushing for a more complete understanding of the central nervous system," Florian Solzbacher, one of the researchers partnering with the team and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, said in a statement. "This requires being able to interface with cells using arrays of micro implants across the entire 3-D structure of the brain."