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NTU develops a microchip to be inserted as pain reliever

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A research team headed by National Taiwan University (NTU) has created a microchip that can be inserted into your body and alleviate pain through the swipe of a cell phone-sized device.

At only NT$10 a piece, the microchip is said to possess healing properties that provide chronic pain relief for up to three months per "swipe." The chip will help those who suffer from bone spurs, trigeminal nerve injuries, painful amputation stumps and sports injuries.

The landmark device will reportedly be ready for public use in two years time.

The innovative project was a collaborative effort by the NTU Graduate Institute of Electronics Engineering and Institute of Biomedical Engineering, National Taipei University of Technology as well as scholars and doctors from the Chungshing Hospital and Shin Kong Wu Ho-su Memorial Hospital. The nanomaterials used in the microchip technology were provided by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited.

According to Lu Shei-shi, NTU professor of the Graduate Institute of Electronics Engineering, the super affordable microchips are predicted to rake in US$23 million globally by 2013. Lu revealed that the electronic chip yielded successful results when tested on lab rats; human testing will follow and in three years time, it could be used as treatment in a medical capacity.

NTU Institute of Biomedical Engineering Professor Lin Chi-wan described the current treatments for pain relief, such as the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES), as more tedious since it requires open surgery. Furthermore, patients need to get X-rays every three to six months and undergo a follow-up surgical operation; each visit uses up NT$6,000 from the national health insurance and another NT$5,000 comes from the patient for expenses such as needles and shots.

The mechanics and procedures for the microchip pain reliever are simple: the chip is inserted in close proximity to the spinal nerve; every time the person is pained, they swipe an independent and wireless cell-phone-sized device in contact with the microchip reader. A small flow of electronic current will stimulate the spinal nerves and alleviate the pain.

The research results of the invention will be released next February at the 2010 International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), the prestigious forum dubbed the "Microchip Olympics" by industry insiders. The principal of NTU, Lee Si-chen, proudly stated that of the 210 research papers accepted and presented at the forum, nine belong to Taiwan -- six of which are products of NTU. To date, the university has won first place at the conference for six consecutive years.

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