Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have made their way into numerous components since the 1990s, including biomedical devices. However, technical and business challenges remain until the full potential of these systems in the biomedical field can be realized.
This is the focus of an article on our sister site MD+DI (Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry), which explores some of the uses and obstacles of MEMS in the biomedical field.
MEMS are silicon chips that are integrated into a range of components, including mechanical, fluidic, optical, acoustic, thermal, chemical or biological components, according to the article, written by guest blogger Charles Chung, an associate at AM Fitzgerald & Associates, a MEMS product development company. Integrating chips and these components enables them to interact with the world, which allows them to function as sensors and/or actuators.
Currently, the consumer device and automotive industry are among the top ones for MEMS, but the biomedical device industry has great potential as well, Chung wrote. He cited a 1966 film called "Fantastic Voyage," in which a microsubmarine explored and traveled through the blood vessels of the human body. This is not a reality yet, he wrote, but tiny MEMS sensors as wide as a few human hairs could make such a scenario possible.
For example, a devices called the St. Jude Pressurewire guidewire uses two MEMS sensors to guide a balloon catheter, which must be positioned in the blood vessel at the correct location so that the balloon inflates to open a constriction, or stenosis. As the catheter winds its way through the cardiovascular system, the two sensors read the same blood pressure. However, when the forward sensor detects a drop in pressure, the clinician knows that the stenosis is now between the two sensors and can be inflated at the correct location, according to the article.
Still, device makers must deal with both technical and business challenges to the adoption and development of more of these devices that leverage MEMS sensors before they see their full potential in the biomedical device industry, Chung wrote.
Among technical challenges include the material the devices are made from, silicon, which is a hard, brittle material. Medical devices, especially those for use inside the body, must be soft and flexible, Chung wrote.
The difference in the volume of unit sales between biomedical and consumer electronics products also pose an issue for the incorporation of MEMS technology in biomedical devices, according to the article. This is due to the batch manufacturing process of MEMS devices, which produces the sensors in large volumes. This doesn't suit the biomedical industry's volume unit sales, which are typically much smaller than those of consumer devices, Chung wrote.
You can read more about MEMS and the biomedical industry in the article, "Fantastic Voyage: MEMS Sensors for Biomedical Device Applications," on the MD+DI site.
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Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.