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Microchip Warns of Dangers in Body

WebMD Health News

Jan. 28, 2002 -- Doctors may soon be able to find out important information about your body without laying a hand on you. A tiny microchip -- implanted inside the body -- could help doctors better care for people with life-threatening medical problems such as heart failure.

The microchip -- smaller than a dime -- could be implanted without surgery to monitor blood pressure in people with heart failure. Relatively small changes in blood pressure in these people can mean life or death.

Currently, doctors treating someone with heart failure must go by the person's symptoms or perform an invasive procedure to obtain information about the pressures in the heart, said Jay Yadav, MD, in a news release.

The new technology, called micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS), was presented at a meeting of doctors specialized in treating blood vessel problems.

The MEMS sensor is made of flexible plastic and is paper-thin. No wires are involved, and it's powered by a handheld transmitter/receiver.

"It would be nice to have a test, like a blood pressure test, that the doctor can check every time the patient is in the office, or that the patient could even check himself while at home. We believe the MEMS device could make it much easier to follow a patient with certain health problems," Yadav said. He is director of vascular intervention for the department of cardiovascular medicine at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

In heart failure, the heart is not able to pump blood efficiently. Pressure in the heart increases, and even small jumps can increase symptoms, including shortness of breath and chest pain.

The MEMS sensor was developed by Mark Allen, PhD, for use in jet engines. He is professor of electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

To monitor blood pressure in people with heart failure, the microchip can be attached to a catheter. The catheter is then threaded through a vein in the neck and into the right side of the heart, where it is attached.

The MEMS technology could also be used in people with an aneurysm in the abdomen -- a weak, enlarged blood vessel that balloons out and forms a sac. As in the heart, the microchip could monitor pressure inside the aneurysm.

When the pressure inside the sac begins to increase in size, the chance that the aneurysm will rupture goes up. Something must be done quickly in this case since a ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency.

Doctors have to do an imaging test called CT scan to look for leaks inside the aneurysm that will cause the pressure to increase. The microchip -- thread though a vessel in the groin and placed inside the aneurysm -- could tell doctors when something needs to be done.

At this point, the device is being tested on animals. Studies testing the sensor in humans will begin in the spring.

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