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Wireless chips and probes could monitor orthopedic implants


June 13, 2011

Ortho-Tag is a system in which information regarding orthopedic implants is stored on a ch...

Ortho-Tag is a system in which information regarding orthopedic implants is stored on a chip attached to the implant, and can be read with a handheld external probe (Photo: University of Pittsburgh)

Over the years, New Jersey orthopedic surgeon Lee Berger became frustrated with the lack of information that patients had on prosthetic devices that had been implanted within their own knees, hips, feet, or other parts of their skeleton. In order to gather data such as the size, model, age, serial numbers or manufacturers of these implants, either X-rays or extensive paper trail hunts were required. His new product, the Ortho-Tag, is designed to address this problem. All of the vital data regarding an implant could be obtained by placing a probe against the patient's skin, plus information on the health of the surrounding body tissue would be provided.

The Ortho-Tag system consists of a small radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, and a handheld receiving probe. The chip would be loaded up with information that future health care providers might need to know, then attached to the prosthesis prior to implantation. Sensors on the chip would also measure pressure on the implant, the chemical balance and temperature of the surrounding tissue, and would indicate if harmful organisms were present. 

Down the road, when a doctor wanted to know more about a patient's prosthesis, they could just hold one of the probes against the patient's skin, adjacent to their implant. Because the chip emits a wavelength specially designed to travel through human tissue, data transmitted from it would be picked up by the probe, then displayed on a computer screen.

The chip, its unique wavelength and the probe were all designed in the laboratory of Marlin Mickle, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering. Berger is currently developing the system through his Otho-Tag Inc. company, and is in the process of developing relationships with several manufacturers of orthopedic implants.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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