A recent TR article reports that researchers from UC San Diego and from Clarkson University in New York are aiming to develop a chip which will continuously monitor soldiers’ physiological chemistry (initially glucose, oxygen, lactase, and norepinephrine) via enzymatic sensors. At signs of substantial changes to normal levels of the markers, the chip, carried externally but connected to the soldiers’ systems via electrodes and presumably tubing,  will be able to release the appropriate chemicals to give initial treatment to the injured. This rapid diagnosis and treatment is crucial in the battlefield, where the majority of deaths occur within half an hour of injury.

Smart sensor

While this development is certainly on the books and will sooner or later be realized, as both critical need and technology are there (or feasible with current and near future levels of technology), the reported “4 years to completion” seem overly optimistic, perhaps they are talking about a very rudimentary prototype.

Besides the complexity of getting the enzymatic reactions and proposed logic gates right, transferring biotechnology which works in solution in the lab to external conditions can take years. Furthermore, the ability to incorporate these into a chip which is rugged enough and retains its operation in battlefield conditions will take substantial time and effort. This without mentioning the rigorous quality testing these chips will need to undergo to ensure no malfunctions, which may be life-threatening.

The current design speaks of an external chip which monitors the soldier’s condition via electrodes implanted subcutaneously or at other locations. Such connections will have to overcome numerous obstacles, both engineering- and biology-related. Further system generations involving implantable chips (for which immunological scarring and other difficulties will have to be overcome) are even further away and will be the target of such development.

While these advanced models may take a long time to develop, this project may end up pushing through technology which can prove extremely useful in “civilian” medicine as well, similar to many DARPA projects. Imagine being able to implant medical chips into patients, with these monitoring all vital signs and markers continuously and releasing therapeutic compounds at the precise time and quantity required. These chips will also be able to communicate wirelessly with the physician, and allow perfect monitoring and immediate treatment of patients’ condition.


Battlefield Medic on a Chip