Public Release: 

Researchers envision intelligent implants

American Society for Microbiology

NEW YORK - July 8, 2003 -- Imagine a replacement hip or knee that was intelligent enough to recognize if it was infected, diagnose and treat the infection and report back to the doctor what it had done. Well it may not be a reality yet, but researchers today announced the development of an interdisciplinary group of scientists that hopes to design and build such a device.

"Two to three percent of total joint replacements fail due to chronic bacterial biofilm infections. The only recourse for such patients is the traumatic removal of the implant which results in additional bone loss, extensive soft tissue destruction, months of forced bed rest with intravenous antibiotics and significant loss of quality of life due to complete loss of mobility, " says Garth Ehrlich of the Center for Genomic Sciences at the Allegheny Singer Research Institute in Pittsburgh, one of the organizers of the working group. Ehrlich presented the group's vision at the American Society for Microbiology's Conference on Bio- Micro- and Nanosystems.

Ehrlich and his colleagues envision an intelligent implant covered in microelectronic mechanical systems (MEMs)-based biosensors that could detect these debilitating infections early and identify the bacteria responsible. The implant would then provide therapy by dispensing the appropriate antibacterial compound from an internal reservoir and monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. In addition, the implant would be able to communicate what it had done back to a physician using wireless technology.

The group, which met for the first time in April, includes a variety of specialities that do not normally work together including clinicians, microbiologists, electrical engineers, biofilms experts and MEMs technologists. Because of the diverse backgrounds, they spent much of meeting giving lectures about their respective fields. "Everyone was trying to educate everyone else," says Ehrlich. Ehrlich cautions that this is a long-term project and there are no guarantees. He estimates a minimum of seven years before they even have a prototype.

"There are technical hurdles that still need to be overcome but I'm fairly confident that technology is evolving rapidly enough that we will be able to do this," says Ehrlich. "The ever increasing number of total joint replacements being performed on an aging U.S. population mark this disease a high priority for the development of new interventional strategies."

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The ASM Conference on Bio-, Micro-, Nanosystems, held in collaboration with the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society on July 7-10, 2003 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, is intended to provide an interdisciplinary forum for microbiologists and engineers to explore ways in which microbiology can contribute to the growing field of nanotechnology. For further information on the meeting contact Jim Sliwa, ASM Office of Communications.

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