Health gadgets of the future

December 1, 2011 2:52:56 PM PST
Cell phones and computers have evolved by leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Now, it's time for medical devices to do the same. Right now, researchers are working on new gadgets to improve healthcare and help us save money on it.

Two and a half trillion dollars and counting, which is more than $8,000 per person, of what Americans spend on healthcare, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"Let's make it cheaper," said Charlie Sodini, LeBel professor of electrical engineering and computer science and co-director of MEDRC.

Professors and students at MIT's Medical Electronic Device Realization Center (MEDRC) want to do just that. A recent study found that Americans are throwing away 33 million dollars on unnecessary complete blood cell counts during routine checkups. The MedRC is working to lower the cost of common blood testing, and reduce the wait for results. Using micro fluidics, researchers are routing blood cells through a chip with electricity.

"Make some got left, some go right and some go straight," said Joel Voldman, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and co-director of MEDRC.

The idea is to create a device that uses a drop of blood instead of a whole vial for various blood tests. It could cut-out costly lab-work and get patients' results in minutes.

The researchers are developing a wearable vitals monitor. It measures heart rate and blood pressure at your head. And could help doctors track conditions like high blood pressure more accurately and continuously to better personalize treatment.

"Is my medication working? Should I increase it? Should I decrease it? What's my overall health?," said Eric Winokur, MIT PhD candidate.

There is a smart ultrasound. No matter how much you push on the prototype?you get consistent images. With a normal ultrasound you get a lot more movement.

"The harder I press on his arm the more we can kind of see the tissue compressing," said Matthew Gilbertson, MIT graduate student.

Researchers hope it will lead to more accurate and more frequent imaging of things like tumors. They want images comparable to x-ray without the higher cost or risk of radiation.

"Then you have the additional information of more images over time and you've not experience a radiation dose with each imaging scenario," said Brian Anthony, co-founder of MEDRC.

The MEDRC works closely with physicians to understand patient needs. Co-founder Brian Anthony tells us the devices they're creating could be in your doctor's office or even your home in the next few years.