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Using RFID to Monitor Implants

Kodak, best known for cameras and photography, imaging systems if all kinds, also dabbles in medical devices. One of their latest ideas is a biodegradable RFID chip, which at the time of writing, exists as a patent application only.

The basic concept behind the chips, is that they are edible - that is to say they can pass into the body without doing any harm, then break up and be absorbed naturally. This leads to many more applications than just the one they are aiming for.

Kodak has designs on using the chips to monitor the digestive tract. . The tags would be covered with soft gelatin that takes a while to dissolve in the stomach. After swallowing a tag a patient need only sit next to a radio source and receiver. The chip's position in the body is tracked over time, allowing doctor's to see the precise location of any blockages. Eventually, the gelatin is dissolved away, and the chip simply disintegrates.

Additional Uses

An RFID chip that disintegrates when exposed to body systems has far more advantages than simply monitoring the digestive tract.

One highly useful application would be to place these tiny chips in an implant such as an artificial arm or leg, a rhoe-knee, or artificial heart pump. Placing them just below the surface at the joint with the body, or in a high-wear and tear area provides a unique possibility for monitoring damage.

Placed in layers, passive RFID chips, which send an id signal only when activated by radio waves, could sit dormant for years, then, when scanned, emit a signal that verifies the pieces of implant around them are intact. If the implant is not intact, the chips will have been exposed to bodily juices, and dissolved - hence, no signal.

Hitachi Ltd recently demonstrated functional RFID chips that were just 0.05 millimetres by 0.05 millimetres and look like bits of powder. One twentieth the size of a microdot, they were fully functional radio frequency transceivers, with enough memory to store a 38 digit number.

Made out of Kodak's biodegradable material - or a similar material not patented - such tiny RFID chips could be deployed by the dozen, to monitor the edges of a complex implant for damage, saving any necessity for exploratory surgery in case of malfunction.

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