MD&M West Attendees Experience the Weird World of DIY Implants

Rich Lee talks DIY implants and body hacking with industry attendees MD&M West.
Body hacker and DIY implants expert Rich Lee took to the Center Stage at MDM West on Tuesday to reach out to the medical device community and talk more about the mysterious world of grinders – people who are creating their own implantable devices more medical and recreational purposes. Lee talked about a number of projects that he and other grinders are working on such as visual enhancement implants to increase the spectrum of visible light by humans into the infrared range as well as implants that will enhance the human sense of smell.
After discussing some of his own projects, including his ear enhancement implants for echolocation and sensing temperature and fellow body hacker Tim Cannon's recent successful implantation of a homemade temperature monitor [Lee discussed how the medical device industry could be at the forefront of what companies like Intel are predicting will be the next wave of technology, beyond wearables, beginning as soon as 2016. “If the reports from Intel are any indication of where they think wearables technology is going and where they're going to be investing their money soon I think [the medical device industry] is going to be scouted out a lot more.”
There are a lot of opportunities that exist if you partner up with these companies and individual that want to get into this stuff,” Lee told industry attendees. “The things I'm interested in are devices that will enhance humans and not just restore normal function,” Lee said. “[Grinders] can come up with these ideas but the medical device community are the only people that can really make them happen.”
Lee was firm in stating that the safety measures are not where they should be, which is why no grinder will sell any implant products for fear of liability. He said the grinders like himself would defer to the device industry for its knowledge on not only FDA regulations and safety but also materials as well. He mentioned that the device implanted in Tim Cannon's arm was recently removed and it was found that the device's lithium battery had swelled to nearly double its original size and could potentially have exploded had it been left implanted for much longer. These are the types of long-term issues with these sort of implants that Lee believes the device industry is readily equipped to solve.
When asked by one attendee if there was a line that body hackers wouldn't cross Lee likened the phenomenon to consumers who have to have the latest model of cell phone. “The lines are really individual. I know some people that if a bionic limb comes out that is better than the fleshy one then the meats got to go and they'll get the prosthetic.”
Like most device makers, many in the audience were concerned with cost. Lee remarked that most of his own implants were done for about $200-300. But he also discussed the low cost of many of the parts used to create homemade implants. As an example, Lee talked about a deep brain stimulation (DBS) device that his fellow hackers have created...for the low price of $10!
The audience was shocke,but for Lee it was another reason why device makers might do well to align themselves with ideas coming from the DIY movement. As technology gets easier, faster, and more and more into the hands of consumers and patients, it's not difficult to envision a place where even innovations like DBS could be happening on a much smaller scale. “It occurs to me if you can knock something off for $10 but it cost you guys millions of dollars to get it approved, and things like 3D printing are on the horizon... I kinda worry for you guys...but we'll see what happens.”
-Chris Wiltz, Associate Editor, MD+DI