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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK
Medical microchips' massive potential
heart surgery
Robotic techniques could revolutionise heart surgery
The future of treatment for life-threatening conditions, including cancer and heart disease, could come from a new breed of microchips.

Biological microelectromechanical devices, known as bioMEMS, could be implanted into the body to deliver doses of drugs or carry new cells to damaged tissue.

The possibilities presented by the field of biomedical nanotechnology were outlined by Robert Michler, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Ohio State University, US, at the Biomedical Nanotechnology World 2000 conference.

Among the applications of nanotechnology in health would be the development of robotic surgery techniques.

A recent study led by Dr Michler has used robotic methods to graft arteries from the chest wall into the heart in 60 patients.

Animal tests

Now, Dr Michler anticipates that the same techniques, allowing precision and access to tiny areas of the body, could allow microchips to be placed in tissue or blood vessels.

The chips could then release drugs or even stem cells to stimulate local tissue repair.

"We're ready to create the chips and use the robot to insert them into the hearts of lab animals," he said.

Clinical trials on humans are possible within five years.

The emerging field of nanotechnology and health in the UK is centred at the University of Birmingham.

Its researchers believe there is great potential for developing new techniques and treatments, and proposals are currently being drawn up for new areas of research.

Cancer vaccine potential

Other specialities that could benefit from the microchip technology include cancer detection and prevention.

Michael Caligiuri, associate director for clinical research at Ohio's Comprehensive Cancer Centre, said there was potential to develop a chip containing a cancer vaccine which would be delivered in precise doses to specific parts of the body.

"Drug delivery devices would give us much better control of dosing, thus enhancing the effectiveness of the drug while limiting its toxicity," he said.

Microchips with sensors attached could also detect mutated genes or high hormone levels indicating the potential for malignancy.

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See also:

02 Feb 00 | Health
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12 Mar 00 | Health
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27 Aug 00 | Health
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