From Mobile To Miniature: The Internet Of Nano-things Comes Of Age

A year ago, everyone was talking about Fitbits. Now everyone seems to be wearing one. The pace of adoption for mobile-connected health devices is astounding. 

And the next generation of mobile monitoring doesn’t look like a phone, a Fitbit, or even an Apple Watch. Typically, you won’t see it. It could be a sensor the size of a pinhead inside a pill, as is the case with Proteus’ ingestible pill sensor technology. Or a smart patch that delivers the right dose of Parkinson’s medication when it detects muscle tremors. Or temporary tattoos with embedded sensors that monitor heart, muscle function, and brain activity through miniaturized transistors, diodes and resistors, fashioned into wires just a few nanometers thick, each bent into the shape of a tiny meandering river. All these technologies exist today. The question is how do we best apply them to modern life?



Taking healthcare technology from the lab to our lives

When thinking of the continuum from wellness and prevention into diagnosis and treatment, challenges arise in different types of disease conditions. And for healthcare technology innovation to go from the lab to patients’ lives, it will need to demonstrate cost efficiencies. 

In terms of systemic costs, it’s generally highly prevalent chronic disease conditions like blood pressure, diabetes, COPD, cardiovascular and cholesterol, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease and others that are the big-ticket items. Turns out, medication costs for the vast majority of these patients isn’t actually that high compared to diseases like cancer or less prevalent diseases like ALS, MS, and others. 

And yet, the per capita spend on a patient with high cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease (which is the most common triad found in about 33% of patients with any of these) is around $20,000. When multiplied by the patient population, it’s a huge cost, unsustainable in the years to come. 

Using nanotechnology for compliance and early detection

On the acute end of the spectrum, stroke, kidney failure, and heart failure are among the most expensive, with patients with any two costing up to $50,000 per capita.  Here, timing is everything. The difference in outcomes and cost between a patient with early signs of chest pain or numbness on one side as opposed to suffering a full-blown cardiac arrest or stroke is huge. The key lies in addressing compliance and daily lifestyle management for chronic conditions, and early detection of acute onset situations — and miniaturized health monitoring technology happens to excel at both.

All technology eventually gets commoditized — and that’s a good thing. Once R&D is suitably rewarded, the VCs get their piece of the pie, the entrepreneurs their millions, and the bankers their profits, the business of putting technological breakthroughs to work impacting lives begins. Miniaturized health monitoring is close to the edge of doing just that.

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