• Anna Luisa Schaffgotsch

Implants on the rise

After years of studying, researching and working in the biotech industry, it was time to follow my passion and interest in this topic and endeavour on making it a reality. Specifically, sub-dermal implants had long been an area that caught my attention as a topic that has the capacity to change the world as we know it.

Figure 1: NFC Implant

I ordered my first sub dermal NFC implant in 2018 and spent almost 8 months understanding all aspects of this technology and its benefits. I founded Impli in April 2019 with the outset to make lives safer and more convenient.


The aim of this blog is to provide thoughts, ideas and perspectives that I have gathered over the years, and which I believe to be relevant to the future development of this fascinating area of biotechnology. This first entry being about the history of implantable devices and their current setting in society.


Implantable technologies have taken a rollercoaster ride over the last 20 years. Kevin Warrick was known to be the first person who implanted a RfiD (Radio Frequency Identification) device into his body in 1998[1].


Interestingly however, he was a long way off from being the first person who had an implantable device inside of their body. The first medical implant was reported as early as 1952 with Zolls electrical heart stimulation device (now known as the pacemaker)[2]. Nowadays an estimated 5-6% of the population in industrial countries have mimicked, replaced or rebuilt bodily functions to lead a better or longer life [3].


Implants have shaped the medical device industry for the past 60 years. Yet, and this is what struck me throughout the years, what has prevented us from using implantable devices beyond strictly medical functionalities and move into healthcare and lifestyle functionalities? And how did sub-dermal implants infiltrate the underground communities of biohackers but have not yet fulfilled mainstream applications?


In an attempt to provide answers, we have to look at several aspects:

  • What prevented us to adopt sub dermal implants as mainstream 20 years ago?

  • Do we accept medical implants just if a pathology is present, or are we at a point where we can adapt them to prevent disease?

  • The importance of the biohacking communities for innovation and adoption.


1. What prevented us to adopt sub dermal implants as mainstream 20 years ago?


Figure 2: Kevin Warrick showing an Rfid implant in 1998

20 years ago, the internet started entering every-day life in western countries, with personal computers evolving into necessities and the rise of the consumer electronics market taking off.


Mobile phones were rare and were regarded as luxury goods, the concept of smart homes did not exist, accounting was still a paper-based task, and a paper-print was still very much at the heart of newspapers, books and maps. The kind of world that generation X has never experienced.


In contrast to the above, today, a mere 20 years later, the average time a person spends on their smart mobile device is 2 hours and 55 minutes per day[4] and each person has an average of 8 mobile devices connected to their life[5]. The average person (in western society) has 4 electronic access and credit cards in his wallet and is rapidly moving towards a cashless society.


Kevin Warrick’s, back then considered SciFi idea of using sub dermal RfiDs (Radiofrequency identification) as functional elements within the body, was actually a very plausible one. Nevertheless, it didn’t solve the need of consumers because the infrastructure needed, to make the technology functional, was not yet available.


Since then society has created entirely new infrastructures and the digital transformation has suddenly made subdermal technologies a feasible solution for our everyday lives. We have NFC readers in our smart phones, have ditched analogue locks for digital ones, and are driving keyless cars. We use electronics to optimise every aspect of our lives to save time and increase our humanitarian efficiency.


These rapid changes to society, that most people above a certain age have lived through, now make Kevin Warrick’s “SciFi” vision a very possible reality that will no doubt further influence the digital transformation we are currently experiencing.


2. Do we accept medical implantable devices just if a pathology is present, or are we at a point where we can adapt them to prevent disease?


When I asked people how many medical devices they had implanted, most people replied without hesitation. Either they had a pacemaker, a screw or plate to heal a broken bone or an insulin pump.

Figure 3 Evolution of the pace maker in the medical device revolution (Mulupuru, S.K. et al 2017)

Our history of using implantable medical devices seems to strongly correlate to the innovation boom and the second industrial revolution. The increase of division of labour and mass production in combination with the increase of transportation means and logistics after World War 2 also vastly developed the healthcare industry. We built implantable devices and electronics that would keep our heart beating, our joints moving, our vessels strong and our blood clean.


In the meantime, the population grew from 2.3 billion in 1939 to 7.7 billion in 2019[6]. We started living longer lives. Healthcare costs increased from $1,797 to $10,739 per capita[7] and life expectancy increased by almost 20 years[8] in the same timeframe. Cosmetic surgeries surged from 6,7 million interventions in 2000 to 17,7 million in 2018[9] and our ability to control every aspect of our body with medication, devices or lifestyle choices became a reality.


This development gave rise to the optimised self-movement. The optimised self-movement is the quest of humans to optimise their life through continual improvement rather than the quest for perfection. It is the aim to make the 24 hours of each day more efficient and seek out technologies to harness the full potential of being human[10].


Like most of us, I fall victim to counting my steps, analysing my sleep patterns and measuring my heart rate. Most of all, I will try any new application that will save me time during my day or increase my output.


The knowledge and communication methods available to us allow the optimised self-movement to flourish through all communities. The internet and modern communication channels like YouTube, social media and online blogs give everyone the possibility to seek a better and more efficient lifestyle. We are in an area where, the person who is not consulting google before going to the doctor, has become a rarity.


The advertisement industry has further led to the widespread communication of popularising healthy living. In the meantime, new technologies and wearables help provide valuable information about the amount and type of activity done and more sophisticated devices can even provide accurate insights on heart rate and glucose levels.


Figure 4 The Interaction between the Optimized Self, Preventative Medicine, Biohacking and the Quantified Self

Wearable and portable consumer devices are already integrated with medical professionals and insurance companies to incentivise and guide a better and healthier lifestyle. Furthermore, the aggregation of the data collected from the devices form the basis of artificial intelligence.


Today our community is familiarised with medical devices as consumables. Sub dermal devices are the next extension into preventative medicine and the optimised self. Their advantage lies in more accurate and consistent data but sub dermal devices also support our day to day life by hardwiring access and identification into our bodies.


In order to continually advance our world, society needs to change their current perception of the traditional medical device. Furthermore, it is important for our society to understand the lifestyle and healthcare benefits sub dermal devices could have.


3. The importance of the biohacking communities for innovation and adoption.


The first biohacking spaces opened in 2005 in the Bay Area. By the time my university days came along 5 years after, I was part of the London Hackspace. These communities were founded so that people outside of the academic environment could learn and experiment with new technologies. They allow innovation and knowledge to translate into local communities and lead initiatives like the iGEM and BioBricks competitions, which are now innovation gateways for biotechnology research.


Implantable devices are widely experimented on within these spaces. The opportunities the technology provides to communities, in its simplest form as identification, has fascinated the bio hobbyist since the first emergence of the technology. Biohackers have built implants that can act as private networks[11], navigation devices, ocular implants and implanted personal blood testing laboratories.


Globally more than 50,000 people live with sub-dermal NFC implants to optimise their lives. The movement was accelerated in Sweden where the Swedish railway system already accepts NFC implants to be used as railway passes. Many gyms in Sweden allow access with implants, and offices have widely adapted them to replace their key cards.

Figure 5 Swedish Railway Scanning Implants with Railway Tickets (SJ AB)

The fact that we are already immersed in our electronic environment is also accepted amongst many of us . 50% of people claim they cannot live without their smart phones[12] and 2.81 billion people use social media platforms and thus build virtual realities throughout our existence. These technological trends indicate society moving towards an integrated future with technology.


Implants are more than ever on the rise and we are en-route to integrate biometrics, ingestible and implantable devices, with our already existing IoT environment.


The innovative initiatives of the biohacking communities in implantable devices allow us to find valuable applications that could save lives and build infrastructures.


In part I hope that this blog leaves you with some questions answered, and many more to be answered. I also hope it gave you a brief insight into the world we have built and are building. In the next blog, we will cover current and future applications of implantable devices and their potential for society.


In the meantime, please feel free to check us out at www.impli.org. We have just launched the pre-booking campaign of our first product, allowing you to carry your in-case-of-emergency medical information with you at all times.


Stay tuned for future applications, the next blogs and our newsletters!


Anna Luisa Schaffgotsch

CEO

Impli Limited


For more information:


Contact@impli.org


References:


[1] The Independent. (2019). Professor has world's first silicon chip implant. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/professor-has-worlds-first-silicon-chip-implant-1174101.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[2] Aquilina O. A brief history of cardiac pacing. Images Paediatr Cardiol. 2006;8(2):17–81.


[3] Development of Implantable Medical Devices: From an Engineering Perspective; Int Neurourol J. 2013 Sep; 17(3): 98–106; Yeun-Ho Joung


[4] eMarketer. (2019). US Time Spent with Mobile 2019. [online] Available at: https://www.emarketer.com/content/us-time-spent-with-mobile-2019 [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[5] Ncta.com. (2019). IoT Has Quietly and Quickly Changed Our Lives | NCTA — The Internet & Television Association. [online] Available at: https://www.ncta.com/whats-new/iot-has-quietly-and-quickly-changed-our-lives [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[6]Roser, M., Ritchie, H. and Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2019). World Population Growth. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[7] Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. (2019). How has U.S. spending on healthcare changed over time? - Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. [online] Available at: https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/u-s-spending-healthcare-changed-time/#item-on-a-per-capita-basis-health-spending-has-grown-substantially_2017 [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[8] Roser, M. (2019). Life Expectancy. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[9] Plasticsurgery.org. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.plasticsurgery.org/documents/News/Statistics/2018/cosmetic-procedure-trends-2018.pdf [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[10] The Optimised Self | LS:N Global. (2019). The Optimised Self. [online] Available at: https://www.lsnglobal.com/trend-tracker-3/article/19699/the-optimised-self-1 [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[11] Nast, C. (2019). This DIY Implant Lets You Stream Movies From Inside Your Leg. [online] Wired. Available at: https://www.wired.com/story/this-diy-implant-lets-you-stream-movies-from-inside-your-leg/# [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].


[12] ScienceDaily. (2019). How your smartphone is affecting your relationship. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190211140046.htm [Accessed 18 Nov. 2019].

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