Small things, big breakthroughs

June 09, 1997

There are few fields that spawn as many new technologies as the medical
field. Every day, it seems, some company or research lab announces a new
development in the fight against cancer, AIDS, heart disease, arthritis,
deafness, blindness, or any of a number of other tragic and debilitating

No wonder. The very names of those diseases send disturbing shudders up the spine. Most people will pay anything to find a cure and prolong their life or that of a loved one. That human concern alone has fired many careers in medical technology--and produced some remarkable breakthroughs.

Underlying all the work that leads to breakthroughs is a concern for details--in this case, small components whose design and reliability make medical machines work. This special issue contains several stories on those components. Here are three additional reports on new medical devices under development:

  • Optical Sensors, Inc. has developed a new device for measuring blood gases. Called the SensiCath(R) measurement system, it attaches to the patient and works on demand, producing results within 60 seconds. There's no exposure to potentially infectuous blood for the care giver, and no blood loss for the patient, since blood recirculates to the artery after measurement.

  • Aspect Medical Systems, Inc. has developed a one-piece sensor that measures the effects of anesthetics on the brain. The company says the system assists in the detection of patient awareness, giving early warning that the patient may be sedated but still experiencing pain during surgery.

  • Researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary are developing tiny computer chips that might provide hope for the blind. Implanted in the eye, the chips would stimulate the ganglion cells in the retina that are connected to the brain, initiating visual information that can pass to the brain.

Wondrous things, these new developments, and they all depend on tiny details hidden from the patients' view. All of them hold the promise of giving us a better quality of life.

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