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The idea of remotely monitoring the human body has long been one of science fiction, and yet, with modern ‘smart’ technology, it’s one that will soon become common practice. The smart implant is medicine’s latest innovation, a tiny chip implanted in surgery which is able to measure patients’ pH and hormone levels, blood glucose concentration, bacteria, electrical activity and temperature, providing doctors with real-time biofeedback.
With applications in the treatment of Epilepsy and Parkinson’s, smart implants hold huge promise, and, unsurprisingly, Orthopaedics is not far behind in adopting them in their own practise, specifically in the monitoring of patients post-surgery.
Through the early detection of harmful infections, smart implants will be life-saving. But what, specifically, can smart implants do, and when are we likely to see them in mainstream medicine?
The future will see the majority of surgeries – joint replacements, trauma nails, spine fusion devices – using embedded intelligent sensors. Spikes in white blood cells, bacterial levels and changes in pH can flag up the development of infections, which means early detection and treatment for patients, and less risk of major complications. The data is also readily available for doctors, in real time, allowing them to efficiently prescribe the appropriate drugs with no further tests.
The data can also be used, specifically from implants with pressure measures, to track the performance of new joints; surgeons can see whether or not a patient exceeds their range of motion, and how the affected bones are performing.
Implants are also being developed capable of treating infections themselves. The Rothman Institute in Philadelphia are working on hip prostheses with smart anti-infective surfaces. These implants recognise infective bacteria within the body following a drop in pH, and are able to deliver antibiotics internally.
Smart implants branch far beyond Orthopaedics though, and hold huge scope for future medicine. From brain chips which can release drugs to treat Epilepsy, Parkinson’s, OCD and Depression, to bodily implants which can autonomously regulate glucose levels in diabetics, the possibilities are vast. The testing of a vast array of technologies are underway, with the goal of tackling a multiplicity of physiological disorders.
Despite so many benefits, stringent regulations in the medical sector mean the widespread use of intelligent implants will require some time.
They are also, currently, a huge cost, and there is still a lot of research to be done, with funding into these projects still gaining traction. The scepticism surrounding smart implants is still fairly widespread, and whilst research into and development of this technology began in 2015, the ‘big five’ Orthopaedic companies – S+N, Medtronic Spine, Stryker, Biomet/Zimmer and DePuy/J&J/Synthes – are yet to invest.
Smart implants will revolutionise the Orthopaedic sector, with the post-op risks associated with joint replacements and other surgeries being dramatically reduced. It’s hard to compare their cost against the lives they can save, as well as the other benefits to patient recovery they can bring, and the improved data that can aid general surgical progression.
The markets for implantable electronics are huge; the global market for pacemakers and defibrillators is approximately €8 billion, growing at an average rate of 10% a year. With an ageing population, the demand is high, and these new technologies are rising to meet it.
Companies are already investing in their futures by looking at the R&D/regulatory processes surrounding smart implants, and surprisingly it is smaller, start-up businesses asking the relevant questions about what will get their business ahead. Despite some apprehension from Orthopaedic’s giants, the field of implants is not exempt from the move towards a smarter future.
Smart technology is paving the way for modern medicine, and to prepare for new technologies such as these, organisations need R&D Directors, VPs of R&D, and C-Level leadership teams with the right knowledge and experience, and who understand the importance of these investments. CSG specialise in the recruitment of mid-senior level staff, and in the placement of experienced professionals in the Orthopaedics sector. We understand the importance of finding individuals with the specialist knowledge and experience to implement smart technologies, who can keep organisations at the forefront of the industry. If you need help expanding your team, or finding the specialists who will able to grow your company, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.