Amid yet more claims of illegal drug-taking by high-profile athletes, scientists in Switzerland say they may have found a fool-proof way to prevent the use of banned substances in sports.
The researchers say their chip implant, designed to monitor naturally-occurring substances in the blood, could also be used to detect illegal substances and has attracted interest from the anti-doping laboratory in Switzerland, which is helping the World Anti-Doping Agency's bid to stamp out illegal drug use once and for all.
A tiny, portable, personal blood testing laboratory implanted under the skin has been devised by Swiss-based scientists. The prototype device, called IronIC chip, is just a few cubic millimetres in volume but includes seven sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system.
The team at Swiss technology institute EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), led by scientists Giovanni de Micheli and Sandro Carrara, say the device could provide an immediate analysis of substances in the body, transmitted via smartphone to a doctor over the cellular network.
PhD student Jacobo Olivo says the battery in the flexible patch should be placed over the skin, close to the implanted device, "to reduce the discomfort of the patients this....actually there is no battery embedded. So we have to provide power to the sensor in order to make it function.....what we designed is a patch that can be placed exactly over the implantation zone. It's flexible, so it can be placed in a different part of the body and is battery powered and it can transmit power to the implanted sensors using an inductive link," said Olivo.
"The patch is equipped with a Bluetooth model, so actually we can control the patch from far away using an Android application that we have designed running on smartphone or tablets," he added.
In medical applications, the researchers say the method will allow a far more personalised level of care than traditional blood tests can provide
"It can also host the detection of drugs that should be useful in order to adjust the cure, the pharmacological cure to the patient. Typical example is chemotherapetic compounds, which are highly toxic, and then to have an online monitoring of the amount of the compounds into the blood. Should be extremely important in order for the oncologists, in order to tune the cure for that particular patient," said Carrara.
Although the substances discovered by the sensors so far have been anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compounds, Carrara believes with further research it would be possible to use the device to detect banned substances in the blood of professional athletes.
"I had a recent discussion with the federal office for anti-doping actions (Swiss Laboratory for Anti-Doping Analyses) and they are developing this idea of the biological passport or any individual sportsman and they forecast that in ten years from now to have all the sportsmen to be obliged to have under the skin, in a kind of similar technology in order to have the possibility to follow in a continuous manner the metabolic baseline parameters of each sportsman," said Carrara.
Presented by Adam Justice