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Electronic Integration Options for Implantable Medical Devices

We contributed an article to EECatalog’s Medical Electronics Design

By James McDonald, Cactus Semiconductor

The health benefits in our future might just rest on how hale, hardy (and cost-effective) developers, including start-ups, can make their implantable medical device proof-of-concepts—and that warrants a close look at ASSP chips for help with size, power and development time hurdles.

A large number of smaller medical device companies are entering the rapidly growing field of implantable medical devices. Applications, including neurostimulation, for these implantable medical devices encompass everything from alleviating back pain to the treatment of sleep apnea and autoimmune disease. While the potential uses of this technology are exciting to contemplate, the electronics design challenges are daunting.

Competing Challenges

The two major challenges, beyond the government approval process, are system power and size. Many companies, particularly start-ups, must develop their proof-of-concepts under resource and time pressures. The challenge to complete the proof-of-concept in a timely fashion competes with that of optimizing the medical device’s size and power requirements. Developers turn to commercially available off-the-shelf components to expedite proof-of-concept, but this approach often results in a proof-of-concept vehicle that is too big and too power consuming to be of practical use. Meanwhile, the task of reducing power and size while maintaining performance and features lingers until the next generation. Ultimately, the need to reduce size and power in the device becomes a critical path requirement.

A power requirement that is low makes it possible for battery capacities to be smaller, thereby reducing overall system volume. Achieving power requirements that are as low as possible even helps in the case of rechargeable batteries, with the lower power enabling smaller device size and reducing the frequency of recharging for the patient. Smaller-sized implants offer several advantages to the surgeon and patient. As implants become smaller (and the industry is heading in the direction of implantable devices), implantation at the point of therapy becomes possible. This approach lessens the need to implant a device in the chest or abdomen and then run long leads to the point of therapy. Smaller implantable medical devices can also reduce surgical complexity, thus helping to lower risk and saving both time and money.

One option for meeting implantable medical device size and power challenges is the use of an Application Specific Standard Product (ASSP) chip. It allows targeted customization for the specific medical implantable application being developed. Continue reading.