As technological advances in implant design get more and more impressive, one hurdle seems to persist. How can you efficiently deliver power within the body? Many contemporary implants rely on single-use batteries while others require regular recharging, a process that is generally a frustrating one. Using a bulky charging device, one must synchronize the external inductive coil with the one inside the implant, eventually taking a few hours to fully charge and usually leading to some tissue heating and discomfort around the implant. Thus, new solutions that optimize power delivery while decreasing charge duration and user discomfort are needed. That’s why Cambridge Consultants has designed the MagLense technology, a power delivery system that could be shaped into a belt or patch worn by the patient and helps ensures increased efficiency in charging. Medgadget spoke to John Genova, the head of the Smart Implants group at Cambridge Consultants, about their newest innovation.
Mohammad Saleh, Medgadget: Tell us about the work that the Smart Implant Development group does at Cambridge Consultants, and how you came to be a part of it.
John Genova, Cambridge Consultants: The implant group was founded about seven years ago by Arun Venkat and myself. We put together a team to look at where medical implants and the medical devices markets were going. Arun and I talked to numerous medical device companies and realized that there was an incredible need for innovation. We had tremendous technology available in-house at Cambridge Consultants that made it natural for us to look into medical implants. The implants that were out there were mostly using old technologies that were being repurposed. We looked at a future with much smaller, more powerful devices that went after many different disease states. So, we started thinking of ways to improve on the current technologies. Cambridge Consultants doesn’t develop its own products, but we do work on the cutting edge of technology for our clients. To do that, we have to stay up to date on the current trends in the medical device market. We looked at the challenges that would need to be overcome in the next decade. We essentially tried to take the most critical and challenging ones on and find solutions for them. Over these last seven years, a number of people have been added to the implant team and it has become a very strong part of what Cambridge Consultants does.
Medgadget: Could you give us a primer on how these implants are usually charged? What does MagLense do differently?
Genova: One of the major problems and thus challenges with implants is charging. Some have very large batteries inside of them. They’re self-sufficient so that you can implant them and forget them for a number of years — nobody wants to put an implant in and change it every few weeks or months. But these batteries necessitate that the implants be quite large. If you want to go after some disease states, you will need to take some complexities and size outside of the body by using smaller rechargeable batteries, that will power both communication and the implant itself. My colleague Arun Venkat has already addressed the communication challenge by developing implantable Bluetooth technology, but the next hurdle was to take the power outside of the body — thus allowing for much smaller implants. When you take the battery out of the body, how do you power what’s inside but allow for a longer life?
What people typically do is use a large coil to find the implant and try to marry up or synchronize the small inner coil within the implant to the large coil outside. You need a good connection to successfully transfer the power, which is not easy. As implants get even smaller, finding that sweet-spot with the implant is more and more challenging and aggravating.
What the MagLense does is to take the power and focus it using a number of different coils. The coil that matches up with the implant’s coil will be activated. Should the body or the belt move, the power is sort-of handed off to the other coil. So, you’re always delivering the most power to the patient’s implant.
Medgadget: How does the cost of MagLense compare to existent solutions? Does the increase in coil numbers correlate with an increase in the price?
Genova: The cost would probably not dramatically change. This solution is more technology-driven than it is device-driven. There will be a couple of extra coils in there, sure, but the trade-off is minimal. I imagine the MagLense charger would not cost significantly more than what’s out there today – it may even be at a similar price. These have not yet been mass-produced, so there’s really no price on it yet.
Patients today don’t want to be considered patients – they want to be consumers. They’re used to cellphones, gaming-like experiences, and instant feedback. Instead of the aggravating process of finding the sweet-spot for charging, to be able to use belt or patch system to just place on would be great and worth the expense. The cost will not be much more than what’s out there now — it’s basically the newest method for delivering power in a convenient way.
Medgadget: Another source of frustration with this type of technology is that it typically heats surrounding tissue. How has MagLense addressed this problem?
Genova: Yes, heat is an issue. Government regulations make sure implant charging doesn’t exceed such and such temperature over a given period of time. But what MagLense does, through handing off between coils, is that it allows maximum power delivery at a very low energy rate. So, you’re not heating the tissue because you’re providing the maximal power over a short period of time. You don’t need a coil over a very large place to get a very small result. MagLense effectively decreases the focal point of the power delivery.
Medgadget: Does MagLense lead to decreased charging durations? If so, how?
Genova: Charging would be rapidly faster because you’re being much more efficient with the powering. It could currently take five hours to charge a battery coil internally. With this technology, it could possibly be only an hour and a half. The difference, of course, depends on what the implant is and where it is in the body, but the improvement will be dramatic. This is achieved by ensuring that the best coil is always in the right place at any time. If the implant moves for some reason and a coil is not exactly on top of the implant it is charging in a non-MagLense case, then you’d lose or decrease the efficient power transfer. The efficiency is maintained in MagLense by automatically switching to the next coil.
Medgadget: What sort of testing has been performed on this device? Were any patients involved?
Genova: We’ve mostly worked with realistic simulations so far. Cambridge Consultants is a roomful of answers looking for questions. Can you charge an implant when it’s very small, in a very challenging space, while changing orientation, and do so in an efficient manner? We developed that technology and proved that it can be done. Our clients would be the ones to conduct the patient testing. This technology was just developed, so it will have to first go through the normal regulated testing procedures that one would expect for an implant. We don’t do product development by ourselves – we work with our clients on that. We’ve discussed this with a number of medical firms and have walked away with comments like “this is a game-changer” when it comes to wireless charging. That’s because we’re at a time when implants are going to get smaller and smaller, and the technology to power them will need to be more and more efficient.
Medgadget: So just to clarify, Cambridge Consultants doesn’t have its own plans to integrate MagLense into any medical devices, but you will be working with clients who do plan on it?
Genova: Yes, we don’t compete with our clients and develop our own devices. In some cases, we have developed ideas or internal intellectual property that we’ve spun out into separate companies. We’ve spun out over 17 companies over the years. But something like this is a technology that we would use to help our clients develop a competitive edge.
Medgadget: Could you touch on some of the disease states that this technology might be immediately useful for?
Genova: Implants have become increasingly more popular for a variety of conditions. Neuromodulation and pain management is a good area that a lot of implants are targeting. Companies like SetPoint Medical are making bioelectronics and very small implants to be put in specific areas for treatment. Everything from epilepsy, diabetes, migraines, obesity – these are the areas where implants are going. What’s also driving this advance is that drugs typically have lists of contraindications and side-effects. These types of implants (which of course still need to be tested further) give hope that we can bypass severe drug side-effects. Maybe an implant will prevent someone from needing to take drugs for the rest of their life. And of course, there’s the data. Drugs can’t really give you a lot of data. The information that comes from implants will probably be very relevant to be able to get real biological insight that you can’t get from a drug. How we interpret that data and what we do with it will be up for debate, but having the data alone is an advantage. Cambridge Consultants is also very interested and involved in data collection from implants.
Medgadget: Where do you see this technology in 10 years?
Genova: Wow… well, it’ll get more efficient and be even easier to use. Who would’ve thought, 10 years ago, that your big chunky cellphone will turn into a smartphone? The technology is growing at such a fast pace. Bioelectronics is growing, and I think we’ll be able to take the complexities of charging and communication to a very small level. Once we prove the science, the technology will follow close behind. I’d imagine that you’d be charging very small implants in very precise locations in the body – what we’d almost think impossible now, even 10 years ago, we didn’t think we could possibly put implants where we have them now, function the way they do, charge it, and talk to it. Now we do it – every day. Closed-loop systems are probably going to be a norm in the near future. Smarter implants will be able to detect the onset of a condition, intervene, and rectify it without the patient or consumer even knowing it happened.
Medgadget: Should we expect to see battery-less implants in the near future? Maybe coming out of Cambridge Consultants and their clients?
Genova: I believe so. The future is now ripe for these implants. The complexity driving this technology is increasingly leaving the body, allowing the implant to be smaller. Different delivery systems will be devised to get them into very specific places we couldn’t get to before.
Medgadget: What are your plans for the Smart Implant division over the next few years?
Genova: We will be working on making this technology better and more efficient. But we’re also following the latest trends in medical journals and in the industry. We learn what they’re doing and try to basically make it better, technology-wise. We’re always on the lookout for the next challenges that medical firms are going to be facing, and we try to solve these problems. We don’t engage with our medical firm clients just to solve their current challenges, we try to stay ahead of the problems. We mention that this a problem facing many firms like yours, and we think we’ve solved some of those challenges. That’s how Cambridge Consultants helps leap-frog these companies’ technologies.