Originally Published MPMN
Technology has advanced the functionality of electronic implants by leaps and bounds. But in the pursuit of better patient care, there are still many boundaries primed to be pushed. One of them is in the development of smart implants.
At MD&M Minneapolis last month, Jim Ohneck of Valtronic USA Inc. gave a presentation about smart implants. Although some people define smart implants as devices that can collect and record data, Ohneck characterizes them as products that not only gather data but also react to that information. By being able to react to biofeedback, joint load measurement, or infection detection, smart implants could help treat patients more effectively, offer valuable data to healthcare professionals, reduce costs by allowing patients to bypass costly diagnostic tests, and enable OEMs to better investigate device failure or problems. This more-demanding definition of the devices in terms of functionality is where both the potential and the challenges truly lie.
Several intriguing smart implant prospects, especially in the neurological device space, are already in the works. Earlier this year, Medtronic reported on its development of a new smart neurostimulation implant. Unlike current neurostimulators, which deliver pulses on a predetermined schedule, this device would be optimized for specific conditions and would respond directly to brain signals. This design could potentially be more effective and could consume less power; however, human trials for the implant are still a ways off. Finishing clinical trials, on the other hand, is an RNS smart implant by NeuroPace that employs electrodes implanted deep in the brain to monitor electrical activity. The device is designed to emit a brief, mild electrical stimulation to suppress seizures, for example, if the signature of a seizure is detected.
But sporting such advanced functionality does not come easily. The inclusion or addition of electronics to any implant introduces a host of problems, such as maintaining a small package size and keeping power consumption at a minimum, despite increasing functionality.
Integral to solving such problems with these feature-rich devices is a well-thought-out miniaturization technique. For forward-thinking smart implant manufacturers, this often could mean the use of board-maximizing miniaturization methods such as 3-D chip-scale packaging. Straying from the linear layout, this technique consists of assembling chip-on-board or flip-chip circuits on flexible circuit boards and then rolling or folding the boards into a 3-D layout. This approach, Ohneck says, can dramatically reduce surface area and volume.
Regardless of the method, conceiving the optimal design and miniaturization approach is best achieved by specialty electronics houses, Ohneck advises, because of the complexity of the layout and electrical and mechanical considerations. By partnering with electronics companies to overcome the most challenging obstacles in designing these complex devices, OEMs can continue to make progress in this burgeoning market by getting creative with electronics design. Ultimately, designing smart implants requires smart planning.
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