UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 3 |
Mar. 3, 2005
Implantable Medical Devices Promise Better Life
Tiny gadgets could spare diabetes patients the pain of pricking
By Brian Lin
A UBC mechanical engineer is embarking on a multi-disciplinary
project that could spare diabetes patients from ever pricking
their fingers again.
For decades, diabetes patients have been drawing small amounts
of blood regularly in order to monitor their glucose level,
a procedure that is often painful and can be particularly
tough on children or the elderly.
Now Mu Chiao, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Applied
Science and Canada Research Chair in MicroElectro-Mechanical
Systems (MEMS), has set his sights on creating a tiny, implantable
device that could be used to monitor chemical levels such
as glucose in diabetes patients or deliver regular doses of
medication such as hormones from inside the body.
At no larger than 2 millimetres, these tiny chips would
come fully equipped with highly sensitive screening and distribution
mechanisms, and their own power source, all wrapped in material
that prevents rejection by the body.
In fact, some of them would be so inconspicuous that they
could be left in the body once they’ve accomplished
Originally from the southern Taiwanese port city of Tainan,
Chiao was trained in the Sensor and Actuator Center at University
of California, Berkeley, a hotbed for MEMS and nano-technology
One of the hottest areas of mechanical engineering, MEMS
technology has been used to make sensing devices that control
airbag deployment in cars and switching devices in optical
For Mu, however, bio-medical applications of MEMS have a
“I want to make a positive impact on people’s
daily lives,” says Chiao, whose research could mean
fewer physician visits and a better quality of life for patients
with chronic diseases.
Chiao has already pioneered a technique called post-packaging
frequency tuning, which uses pulsed laser emissions to tune
the frequency of micro-devices after they’ve been assembled
and sealed. “The process allows more precise manipulation
of the devices while preventing damaging the parts during
assembly,” says Mu. But that’s just a piece of
“There are some big challenges that have kept microscale
medical devices from being a viable product on the market,”
says Chiao, “We need to come up with a long-lasting
and reliable power source and safe packaging that allows the
right kind of chemicals to go through, to enable screening.”
To that end, and with funding from Canada Research Chairs
Program, Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Chiao has rounded
up top researchers in pharmaceutics, nanotechnology and physics
at UBC. But working among such a wide range of disciplines
poses its own challenges.
“People in different fields often speak different
languages -- technically,” says Chiao. “But everyone
working on this project shares a passion for creating something
that will greatly improve people’s lives, and that makes
the hard work worthwhile.”