Smart pill only 10 years away

Luc Van Den Hove, the CEO of IMEC, gave a most interesting talk called Nano-Electronics: Shaping our Future, here in Dresden today.

He said that silicon technology is governed by exponential rules. The vision of  being connected at anytime has clearly been realised and we can now connect to anyone in the world using these virtual networks.  He said that while user interfaces will have to become much more user friendly.

But the development of silicon capabilities is set to flood into other areas too.

He said that innovation in nano-electronics will percolate into many other sectors  in this industry. We’ll see many more bio-tech applications. The cost  of healthcare  is increasing and we should develop technology that will support independent living for old people.  

There will be body area networks that allow remote monitoring consisting of wireless sensor nodes distributed along the body. They will contain  sensors, actuators but also processing devices and there won’t be  batteries in these systems, they’ll have to function in an automated  way. Sensors’ packaging will need to be flexible and IMEC is developing  prototypes of these systems. Batteries will be replaced by other technologies such as piezoelectric harvesting.

imecHe said that the dimensions the semiconductor industry is fabricating today are similar to those we encounter in biology and this opens up a lot of possibilities, for example  developing nanoparticles that can be bio-functionalised. They will be  used for targeting drug delivery or for burning away tumours locally.

Bio-sensors combined with microfluidics will bring us closer to a lab  on a chip.  Many biosensors will be fabricated in new technologies  allowing them to be disposable. In the longer term people will develop a  smart pill approach to be implanted in the body and monitor functions  in the body continuously. The technology is not that far out. In fact, Van Den Hove told TechEye that many of these health applications will be available in one to three years, while the smart pill he mentioned is 10 years away.

He said that brain diseases will contribute immensely to the cost of health care – chronic diseases are much more challenging so understanding the brain  is going to be extremely important. IMEC is developing a platform where  it can grow cortial neurons over chip surfaces with different micronail pattern structures.

Strechable packaging and flexible electronics will be essential. Many  of those technology trends will require a lot of R&D and for single  companies it’s virtually impossible and the only way to do it is  through global partners from foundries, to equipment suppliers, to material suppliers, to universities and to governments, he said.

Further, the semiconductor industry’s attitude to product cycles and to technological developments will permeate the healthcare and pharma industries, Van Den Hove said. In the pharma industry, the old ways of developing products and technologies is collapsing.