Sunday, March 01, 2009

Foundations of bio-info tech convergence

The most important thing that became clear at last week’s 2nd annual Unither Nanomedical & Telemedical Technology Conference is that many different foundational technologies are starting to be in place for bio-info tech convergence. Ray Kurzweil and others herald the eventual re-engineering of humans into technology that can learn and evolve as fast as infotech but may not realize pathways for bio-info tech convergence are already underway.

Boundaries and definitions of organic and inorganic, natural and synthesized, biological and electronic are blurring into a variety of permutations.

It is almost becoming anachronistic to talk about bio-info convergence when the focus in some fields has already progressed to resolving the problems at hand with the available tools which may include any variety of organic, inorganic and hybrid models.

Three key areas with developments underway:

1. Nanoparticle drug delivery systems
With 5 million people receiving some sort of cancer radiation therapy worldwide each year, and cancer quickly becoming a major killer in developing as well as industrialized countries, improvements in diagnosis and treatment are sought. The nextgen standard could be nanoparticle drug delivery systems (diagnosis is still too challenging of a problem in comparison), which could be used independently or in combination with existing radiation technologies to ameliorate treatment. Many different types of nanoparticles (carbon nanotubes, calcium phosphate, gold and various magnetic nanoparticles) and related technologies such as minimally invasive nanoXrays are under development.

2. Implanted monitors and body area networking
The most obvious case of human-device integration is pacemakers (500,000 are implanted worldwide annually). The latest versions feature one-way broadcast with the devices communicating information externally to physicians for remote monitoring; wireless heart sensors currently have an installed base in the U.S. of over 150,000. Human wireless sensing is further conceptualized as body area networking, which mainly means sensors that are internal or external to the body transmitting data one-way. The IEEE working standard for this communication is 802.15.6. The next steps would be enabling two-way broadcast, bringing some light processing on-board the implanted or external body sensors and later, augmentation. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are developing in lockstep.

3. Powering implants: one idea is the ATP chip
One of the biggest challenges with devices implanted in the body is energy; providing adequate ongoing power to the device. Power trumps the other two concerns: bandwidth and biocompatibility. Many interesting methods of power generation are being investigated including thermal and vibrational energy, RF, light/PV, biochemical energy and the ATP chip, possibly getting nanodevices to produce ATP from naturally circulating glucose.

Apparently no one is yet considering the human bacterial biome as a therapeutic or augmentation platform but this could be another interesting means of bio-info tech convergence.

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