I attended key sessions of the SoC (System on a Chip) conference in Newport Beach in November. I found a panel discussion titled “Exploring Opportunities for the Integration of Silicon and Biotechnology” to be of particular interest since CSS has developed ASICs for biomedical and medical instrument applications. The panel was made up of professors and industry experts from USC, UCSD, UCI, UCLA, The Canadian Consulate and XFAB. Possible applications for silicon in biotechnology include blood testing, diabetic monitoring, and DNA testing. The panelist noted that silicon suppliers are driven by volume, hence applications that are time sensitive, and repeatable which might require a disposable ASIC would be of very high interest.
Applications in which CMOS could potentially be used are low cost healthcare solutions such as checking for swine flu or Bio-micro sensors. Some of the questions addressed by the panelist included the capabilities of the ASIC – do they provide enough sensitivity, do they have enough dynamic range required how are devices moved from the lab to the consumer or physician?
The panel also discussed possible breakthrough technologies, or “killer applications” which could be solved over the next 20 years. One is an artificial retina. Currently there are clinical trials in Europe for a device with 250 pixels. A breakthrough technology will be needed with more pixels, and a material with plasticity not characteristic of CMOS. Nanotechnology was mentioned as a possibility for meeting this requirement. What would be needed is a photoreceptor with 1,000,000 pixels.
Another future application for silicon in biotechnology is biomarkers. This could lead to more specialized cancer detection. A goal would be to reduce the cost and speed the process for DNA sequencing.
The meeting has generated ideas for new ASIC applications with biomedical companies.