Proteus Biomedical's tiny ChipSkin protected electronics add 'intelligence' to medical device leads.
The burst of the dot-com bubble earlier this decade was devastating to many people. But for Proteus Biomedical Inc. it was the catalyst for an unlikely meeting of minds that ultimately yielded an unprecedented approach to electronics integration in implantable devices.
“Starting seven years ago, [the founders of Proteus] decided to try to really push the technology envelope and address some applications that had always been thought of as impossible, like putting electronics in leads,” recounts George Savage, Proteus cofounder and chief medical officer.
Upon the burst of the dot-com bubble, Proteus pounced on the opportunity to hire suddenly-out-of-work experts with fresh eyes and diverse backgrounds in such areas as fiber-optic communications and MEMS technology. “By getting their skills into the medical context, we were able to work out the problem, which is how to deposit a biocompatible ‘can’ on an otherwise standard chip,” Savage says.
The company’s ChipSkin technology is designed to offer an alternative to conventional methods of protecting an implant’s vital electronic components—a crucial design element. Shielding an implant’s electronic components from exposure to the body’s fluids is essential; failure to do so can result in corrosion and, ultimately, device failure. Protection methods traditionally consist of an implantable device’s integrated circuits being placed on circuit boards and encased in a laser-welded titanium can, out of which wires are fed to a lead.
By applying a thin and durable protective layer over the electronic components, Proteus discovered that electronics could be protected via a different design approach. “We figured out how to deposit the can on the chip,” explains Savage. “So instead of chips-on-board-in-can, we can put the can on the chip and not increase the size at all.” Furthermore, this method enables the chip to be integrated inside the lead.
Although it has potential applications in neurostimulation, spinal cord stimulation, and gastroenterology, ChipSkin technology is first being employed in implants engineered for cardiac resynchronization therapy, which are currently in clinical trials. Its use in this type of device opens the door to better patient care, according to Savage. He suggests that the technology provides added flexibility in terms of how therapies are deployed and the number of electrodes that can be attached to a lead, for example.
“It really expands the therapy options for these patients,” Savage says. “[A physician] can change the parameters of therapy without having to reoperate on a patient and have to move a lead by hand. Also, there’s potential to provide real-time or near-real-time feedback on how the heart is doing.”
Proteus Biomedical Inc., Redwood City, CA