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Wireless Implant That Monitors Eye Pressure: Science Fiction or Reality?

March 3, 2011

Implantable Computer Chip to Monitor Eye Pressure (Photo Credit: Gyouho Kim)

Photo Credit: Gyouho Kim

Tiny device may help people living with glaucoma. 

One day, eye pressure may be instantly monitored through wireless computer implants. For now, a group of researchers has taken the world one giant step closer to this reality by creating a prototype eye-pressure monitor.

A tiny, wireless, low-energy, solar-powered, pressure-sensing computer the size of the tip of a pen can be implanted into the eye and used to closely monitor changes in intraocular eye pressure (IOP). Elevated IOP is a risk factor for glaucoma. The innovative wireless radio transmitter built into the implant doesn't need external tuning and sends the vital eye pressure information to an external hand-held monitoring device. If shown to be promising in laboratory testing, this prototype implant may one day be taken into human clinical trials.

This is an important advance, because IOP increase is common in some forms of glaucoma, and it can cause much of the damage and vision loss connected with this devastating disease. Continual measurements (every 15 minutes) with this implant instead of the less frequent measurements in the doctor's office will allow for better fine-tuning of treatments, thus potentially limiting the eye damage and vision loss.

For more details, please read the press release below from the University of Michigan.


A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients is believed to contain the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.

And a compact radio that needs no tuning to find the right frequency could be a key enabler to organizing millimeter-scale systems into wireless sensor networks. These networks could one day track pollution, monitor structural integrity, perform surveillance, or make virtually any object smart and trackable.

Both developments at the University of Michigan are significant milestones in the march toward millimeter-scale computing, believed to be the next electronics frontier.

Researchers present papers on each at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco. The work is being led by three faculty members in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: Professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, and assistant professor David Wentzloff.

Blaauw and Sylvester's new system is targeted toward medical applications. The work they present at ISSCC focuses on a pressure monitor designed to be implanted in the eye to conveniently and continuously track the progress of glaucoma, a potentially blinding disease. (The device is expected to be commercially available several years from now.)

In a package that's just over 1 cubic millimeter, the system fits an ultra low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio with an antenna that can transmit data to an external reader device that would be held near the eye.

"This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system," Sylvester said. "Our work is unique in the sense that we're thinking about complete systems in which all the components are low-power and fit on the chip. We can collect data, store it and transmit it. The applications for systems of this size are endless."

The processor in the eye pressure monitor is the third generation of the researchers' Phoenix chip, which uses a unique power gating architecture and an extreme sleep mode to achieve ultra-low power consumption. The newest system wakes every 15 minutes to take measurements and consumes an average of 5.3 nanowatts. To keep the battery charged, it requires exposure to 10 hours of indoor light each day or 1.5 hours of sunlight. It can store up to a week's worth of information.

While this system is miniscule and complete, its radio doesn't talk to other devices like it. That's an important feature for any system targeted toward wireless sensor networks.

Read the entire press release.


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Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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