Nanotechnology offers the ability to develop a variety of implantable or wearable sensing technologies and medical devices to facilitate the continuous collection of highly accurate medical information. Microprocessors and miniature devices can be paired with sensors to diagnose disease, transmit information and to administer treatment automatically (and remotely) if required. Implantable sensors can be used to detect a vast array of chemical or physical properties. For example, sub-dermal sensor microchips are being developed to continuously monitor and transmit data including, heart rate, body temperature and glucose level. Microsensors are also being developed to monitor success or failure of surgical procedures through the real-time assessment of post-surgical tissue circulation. Implantable microelectro-mechanical (MEMS) devices4 to measure flow rate and acceleration may be used to assess and optimize treatment for individuals suffering from paralysis.
Implantable sensors can be engineered to work with medical devices to automatically administer treatments for a variety of conditions. Implantable microfluidic systems are being developed to dispense drugs on demand. Initial applications of these systems will likely include delivery of chemotherapy drugs for oncology patients and the delivery of drug treatments for patients suffering from a variety of diseases including, autoimmune disorders, human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and diabetes. Implantable sensors that monitor heart rate can also act as a defibrillator to regulate irregular rhythms.
Technology used in implantable devices designed to improve visual or aural perception is currently workable at the microscale. These technologies will, in all likelihood, be further miniaturized to the nanoscale. Work is being done to develop retinal implants to restore vision by electronically stimulating functional neurons in the retina. Cochlear implants are being developed to offer individuals with hearing loss devices that will be more precise and that will offer much better sound quality than devices currently available.
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