Rapid innovation in miniaturization, mobility, and connectivity will revolutionize medical diagnostics and treatments, bringing health care directly to the individual. Continuous monitoring of physiological markers will place capability for the early detection and prevention of disease in the hands of the consumer, shifting to a paradigm of maintaining wellness rather than treating sickness. Just as the personal computer revolution has brought computation to the individual, this revolution in personal medicine will bring the hospital lab and the physician to the home, to emerging countries, and to emergency situations. From at-home cholesterol monitors that can adjust treatment plans, to cell phone-enabled blood labs, these system solutions containing state-of-the-art sensors, electronics, and computation will radically change our approach to health care. This new generation of medical systems holds the promise of delivering better quality health care while reducing medical costs.
This revolution in personal medicine will be rooted in fundamental research in microelectronics from materials to sensors, to circuit and system design. This knowledge has already fueled the semiconductor industry to transform society. It provided the key technologies to continuously increase performance while constantly lowering cost. Computation has changed from huge expensive systems in a back room serving a few, to affordable personal computers with similar processing power that are accessible to nearly a billion people. The communication of information both wired (e.g. Internet) and wireless (e.g. cell phone) has allowed connectivity between people around the world at anytime. Consumer electronic devices such as the digital camera have changed how the younger generation interacts through social networking. The aging population, soaring healthcare costs, and the need for improved healthcare in developing nations are the driving force for the next semiconductor industry societal transformation, Medical Electronic Systems.
The vision of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) is to facilitate the semiconductor industry in the transformation of Medical Electronic Systems as it has successfully demonstrated in computation, communication and consumer electronics. All of the key ingredients are in place. MTL and the semiconductor industry have had a strong interaction for over twenty-five years. The MTL research portfolio includes low power integrated circuits and systems, micro electro-mechanical systems, bioelectronics, sensors and microfluidics which are world leading by any measure. The medical researchers and clinicians at world-renowned hospitals located within a mile of MIT, provide the patient settings to prove the efficacy of innovative devices.
Recently, a Round Table Discussion between CTO’s of major semiconductor and medical device industries was convened by MTL to help define a pre-competitive research agenda and a collaborative research environment applied to medical electronic systems. There was strong agreement of the importance of moving care delivery to the “point of care” rather than the patient traveling to the care delivery. This radical change is a huge opportunity for innovative medical electronic systems. However, the context of care delivery is extremely important. Research project definitions require finer granularity and are classified by medical problems, (e.g. cardiology, neurology, emergency) rather than generic technology solutions. Therefore, medical personnel are essential for highly relevant project definitions and clinical testing. Specific areas that show promise are wearable or minimally invasive monitoring devices, medical imaging, laboratory instrumentation, and the data communication from these devices and instruments to healthcare providers and caregivers.
Based on this feedback MTL has proposed the establishment of the Center for Medical Electronic Systems. The unique research methodology of this Center begins with the research project definition. It is envisioned that multiple research projects will be defined by faculty, in collaboration with physicians/clinicians that are associated with each project. Representatives from the semiconductor/medical device industry, physically located at the Center, will also participate in the project definitions. The project definition includes a prototype system architecture that can be used in clinical tests early in the project to help guide the research technology being developed in parallel. The Center will foster the creation of prototype devices and intellectual property in the field of medical electronic systems and will be the catalyst for the successful deployment of innovative healthcare technology at an affordable price. The vision for the Center is the formation of a balanced eco-system of venture funded start-ups and larger companies, making it quite possible that Boston will become the “Silicon Valley of Medical Electronic Systems.”
Several research groups in MTL and around the Institute have projects that fit within the scope of the Medical Electronic Systems Center described above. My research group currently has projects in vital signs monitoring, body area network communication and electronics for portable ultrasound. A description of each of the projects is found in the Research Reports.