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Could chip implants become the new wearable?

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A new study of injectable implants for tracking body temperature concludes that digital implants in humans display similar performance as standard medical devices. Health Tech World spoke to the managing director of DSruptive Subdermals, the microelectronics company that commissioned the study, about the potential of the technology. 

Swedish startup DSruptive Subdermals, which specialises in implantable microelectronics, has concluded a world-first study in the use of chip implants to track body temperature.

The study, which was undertaken by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital, sought to measure the feasibility of subcutaneous implants for measuring body temperature in humans by comparing the quality of the measurements in a controlled setting.

The implant used in the study is a small, injectable cylindrical capsule made of biocompatible glass. It includes an electronics inlay with a near-field communication antenna and temperature sensor. As a passive device, it cannot transmit any information independently, instead, it is activated by a smartphone that displays the temperature reading via a mobile app and a cloud data storage service.

The founders of DSruptive have been working with implants for the past five years, having discovered that implants used in animals could be applied to humans as a tool for logging health. The company was incorporated in 2019 and has since been engaged in R&D to create microchips that can measure different vital parameters, including an untested device for measuring pulse and heart rate variability.

Eventually, DSruptive aims to develop a device that combines a range of different sensors within one platform. Last year the company received €400,000 euros in funding from the health tech conglomerate, Nordic Group to accelerate its R&D activities.

Over a four-week period, healthy subjects received an implant temperature sensor which transmitted temperature readings to a smartphone app. At the end of the period, the participants were brought into a clinic where their implants were read and their body temperature measured with standard clinical thermometers.

The results of the study found that the digital implants were able to measure temperature with ‘non-inferior’ accuracy to standard clinical devices, such as oral, air or skin thermometers.

The study also concluded that implantation of the device is safe, induces little discomfort and is without adverse effects. This is the first time a study of this kind has been completed with the results indicating that injectable implants could be a robust, reliable, and affordable form of health logging for both personal use and in a clinical setting.

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There are med-tech companies that have developed similar devices before, such as Abbott Laboratories’ Eversense, a glucose monitor for people with diabetes. However, DSruptive claims to be different in its positioning as a new alternative to wearable devices.

DSruptive Subdermals

Hannes Sjöblad, Managing Director of DSruptive Subdermals

“The wearables industry is well evolved by now;  people have been using health tracking wearables for 10 to 15 years,” Hannes Sjöblad, Managing Director of DSruptive, told Health Tech World. “Millions of people use this [technology] for all kinds of different purposes.

“Our take is that wearables are still a clumsy technology because you always need to think about it; whether you need to charge it or not, does it look good on me, is it comfortable. Our idea is to integrate the technology with the body.”

Although it may be a number of years before the technology is more widely adopted, Sjöblad believes microchips will eventually replace wearable devices.

“You see this [trend] in all kinds of electronics. You go from something big that you carry in your pocket to something that is integrated with your body,” Sjöblad said.

“Once I discovered this technology, it made so much sense. It’s so simple and so convenient to use. It hurts for a moment when you put it in there, but because of the way these implants are designed, you can have them in for 20 to 30 years.

“I can see hundreds of thousands of people finding this useful because it’s just a very convenient technology, and we know that convenience and practicality do win. I expect that in the future our grandkids will ask, ‘how did you guys survive when you didn’t have health sensing implants?’”

Two potential applications of the device, according to Sjöblad, are fever tracking and fertility planning.

“In a big city where 10,000 people have a certain wearable, you can see on a statistical population level if the number of people with a fever increases. So it’s a way to observe a surge in advance of it hitting the healthcare system.

“Another [application] is monitoring ovulation cycles, which is a well-applied application for fertility planning for both for couples looking to conceive and those who want to avoid conceiving.”

Costing in the region of $5 per device, Sjöblad also believes it could make health monitoring more accessible in developing economies where wearable devices can be out of reach for the average consumer.

DSruptive is offering its implants as an open platform for researchers around the world who are looking for robust and cost-efficient tools to monitor temperature changes remotely.

According to Sjöblad, the company is in dialogue with several different clinical research organisations that are interested in using the technology for their research into female fertility and fever tracking.

The product is going through a final certification process and will be available for purchase in the next two months. The company aslo intends to launch two more clinical studies before the end of the year.

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