Imagine this. You're in your mid-40s, slightly overweight and really stressed out at work as your oldest child starts applying to obnoxiously overpriced liberal arts colleges in New England — lookin' at you, Sarah Lawrence — and you start worrying if you'll be able to pay her tuition and the car payments and the mortgage and still have a little bit of fun money left over. It's Saturday morning, and you're having a little trouble focusing on your leisure time, when you get a push notification on the old iPhone. "Sweetheart!" you yell across the house. "Gotta go to the hospital. I'm gonna have a heart attack in three hours. My wireless heart attack detector told me so."
That would be the abolute best case scenario for the average American Joe. Unfortunately, the reality of medical technology has not included tiny robots that swim in your blood and warn you hours before a potentially life-threatening emergency hits. Not until now, anyway.
A team of Swiss researchers is putting the finishing touches on a truly amazing little gadget. It's a tiny, 14-millimeter-long mini-spaceship of a device that's embedded just under your skin and held in place with an adhesive patch. The "tiny, portable personal blood testing laboratory," as the researchers describe it, then detects the data about the presence of up to five proteins and organic acids. Using Bluetooth, it then transmits that data to a nearby smartphone, essentially giving the host an unprecedented amoung of real-time information about her health. The best part? It'll cost less than a dollar.
This little skin-bourne, battery-powered gadget could save lives, and Sandro Carrara, a leader of the research team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), isn't shy about that fact. "There is a molecule called troponin that is released by the heart muscle just three to four hours before the heart attack, once the heart muscle starts malfunctioning," Carrara told the Verge. "Our system could detect this molecule three/four hours in advance of the fatal event." So that imaginary future, where you get a push notification a few hours before your heart stops beating, that's entirely possible.
Welcome to the futuristic world of digital medicine, where disease goes to get its ass kicked by nanotechnology. This tiny, blood-reading laboratory joins a growing family of devices that help doctors better understand what's going on inside your body by actually going inside your body. Last summer, we learned about a new microchip-enabled pill that will actually tell your smartphone when your take your medication and how your body reacts. That's actually a deeply simplistic version of a more complex biotech breakthrough that Harvard researchers have been perfecting. Essentially, it's a microscopic robot built out of DNA that doctors inject into your blood, where it can hand off genetic instructions to cancer cells that make them self destruct.
If you're impressed, that's because you should be. You can go pig out on pizza and and cheeseburgers and Doritos-flavored tacos and still sleep safe. Because in the future, heart attacks won't attack. They'll just intimidate.
Image via Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne