“If there is one thing that the Future of MEMS conferences agree upon, it is that MEMS is the foundation and enabling technology of our future,” observes Christopher Melkonian, Ph.D, and Founder, Chief Technology Officer of Midwest MicroDevices (MMD), a MEMS pure-play foundry.
Among the growing applications that take advantage of MEMS miniaturization of computational power are remote diagnostics devices. Working with either an implantable wireless device, or a smartphone or tablet connected to a mobile network, a patient may be monitored for some combination of vital signs and this data is transmitted to a health care provider. Remote diagnostics is a real-time telemedical application that provides sufficient medical monitoring of vital signs to make or exclude a medical diagnosis and report therapeutic progress or a medical emergency.
“What is MEMS? A technical answer is micro-electro-mechanical systems. The more insightful response is inserting wireless computing power into every human transaction,” MMD’s CTO continues. “Near term, many of the transactions with the most traction are in the area of medical monitoring of our aging population.”
Located in Toledo, Ohio, Midwest MicroDevices is a custom fabricator of specialty MEMS and thin-film devices, providing unique, cost-effective micro-fabrication services for customers in MEMS and thin film applications. Now in its 15th year, the company’s state-of-the-art facility produces 100mm wafers with features defined by deep reactive ion etching. Due to its location, Midwest MicroDevices is an important partner of the world’s most advanced rapid prototyping center for medical, automotive, communications and defense technologies.
“There are several medical monitoring devices on the market now,” explains Melkonian, MMD’s CTO. “Many of these are excellent proofs of concept, but we must still regard this technology as immature from both a capabilities and cost perspective.”
Midwest MicroDevices is uniquely tooled for prototype to medium-volume MEMS fabrication production runs. When designing the MEMS foundry and building the company at its startup 15 years ago, Melkonian set a target: “No one else will get your device or tool out of the lab and into production as fast.”
To help sustain this level of performance across a variety of emerging MEMS products, MMD’s foundry works with a wide variety of substrate materials; SOS, SOI, glass, quartz, and even flexible substrates, to name just a few. Gold, Platinum, Silver, Bismuth, Antimony are embraced as MEMS building blocks.
Medical monitoring of vital signs is a growth industry. For example, as the populations of all western industrial societies grow older, diabetes is one of the most researched medical pathologies that afflict human beings. MEMS foundries provide the critical components that can be inserted into a smartphone or smart tablet to support applications for continuous medical monitoring of your blood sugar and transmitting this information to your health care provider.
MEMS-based medical monitoring can take many other forms. For example, MEMS is the realization of wireless diagnostics for clinical depression. Depressed people, and people vulnerable to intermittent depression, may not ask for help. Wireless medical monitoring systems will automatically contact their health care provider to assure an appropriate intervention.
COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is another manifestation of aging and follows diabetes and depression in the hierarchy of Google searches about human pathologies. Will MEMS provide medical monitoring wireless diagnostics through a mobile network? This is a fast-evolving technology and there is always room for design and performance improvements.
Help for Alzheimer’s disease is also very high in online monthly search activity and a MEMS-enabled solution is welcome. The same is true of MEMS-enabled diagnostics and treatment of breast cancer. Will better fabricated components from a MEMS foundry make a smartphone or tablet a better wireless diagnostic device? Yes. Can it make an iPhone or Android smartphone a powerful tool to manage treatment as well as medical monitoring? Yes.
Remote medical monitoring through wireless communication devices, made possible by precision components from Midwest MicroDevices, can also quantify and qualify asthma, mood disorders, sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. MEMS-enabled mobile communication apps simultaneously promise help for managing obesity and blood pressure to help ward off heart failure.
“Leveraging the power of MEMS for medical monitoring and diagnosis is still in its infancy,” observes MMD’s founder and CTO. “The potential is enormous. For example, MEMS-enabled remote diagnostics will help reduce deaths from pneumonia in children, today an all too common event in many countries. If mobile pulse oximeter diagnostics were made reliable and affordable, declining blood oxygen levels could be detected more promptly, providing an instant medical alert for people with medical issues that range from breathing problems to identifying pregnant women at risk of developing life-threatening complications.”
Midwest MicroDevices’ 100mm MEMS wafer components are designed to specific customer requirements and will package easily in small wireless communication devices that vary from medical implants to smartphones and smart tablets for vital signs monitoring, data collection and telemedical transmission health care provider. Think of it this way. Midwest MicroDevices’ technology opens the door to hospital quality diagnostics and supervised medical therapies on an outpatient basis.
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