How would semiconductor chips help restore partial vision in a person born blind, you would ask. Talk to Sham Banerjee, director, corporate business development, Texas Instruments (TI), India, and he’ll tell you that TI is at present working with the University of California in this regard. Research is on to implant semicon chips in the retinas of people suffering from total blindness. A fair degree of success has been attained, as 7-8 implants have already been done in patients and partial vision restored. The chip industry, which till now considered the telecom and PC markets their biggest growth drivers are now taking the healthcare equipment segment seriously. “The healthcare segment is the fourth biggest growth driver for the semiconductor industry,” says Poornima Shenoy, president of India Semiconductor Association (ISA). Infact, the ISA is hosting an ExCITE exhibition in Bangalore today which will showcase the complete integrated technology system growth drivers for the Indian electronics industry. The healthcare vertical will find special focus here as countries spend more and more on healthcare equipment . US, for instance, spends about 16% of its GDP on healthcare, where costs are expected to go up from USD 2 trillion in 2007 to USD 3.1 trillion in 2012. Chip makers are fascinated by the growth in emerging countries like China where healthcare expenditure has increased 227% during 2006-07 alone. And what are the chip makers readying to tap this USD 2.65 billion medical semiconductor market? Sanjeev Keskar, country manager (sales) of Freescale Semiconductor India, says, “Microprocessors used in pressure sensors is turning out to be a big market. With a good part of the world’s population ageing, the need for in-house medical equipment to monitor common diseases like blood pressure and sugar levels are getting to be important.” By 2020, over 1 billion people will be over 60 years. Freescale has infact brought in low-power microprocessors used in pressure sensors, which enables patients read their pressure levels at their homes itself. Chip companies are giving a leg-up to healthcare equipment makers like GE Healthcare and Philips to bring out patient-friendly devices, which ease pain and is more convenient. Endoscopy can be a irritating and painful procedure wherein a tube with a camera in it is inserted into a patient’s body to view the internal parts. “TI is now working with a company which is bringing out capsules with embedded chips which enable cameras to click pictures as it travels through a patient’s body. The next day, the pictures can be viewed on screen,” says Sham. Some revolutionary developments are being made in the sphere of telemedicine which reduces the patient-doctor proximity problem. “At present, telemedicine techniques revolve around doctors making some queries to a patient situated in a remote location,” says Sham. “Through broadband, doctors sitting miles away from the patient can view the x-ray films on monitors, almost like polaroid pictures ,” says Sham. “Technology is here used to compress the image and transmit them so that the doctors can view the images real-time .” “Recently, an ECG was done on a patient at IIT Mumbai and this was transmitted as an MMS file over mobile phone to a doctor in Bangalore,” he says. “If this turns successful , the services of specialists across the planet can be tapped anytime of the day,” he says. And with that geography will soon become history.

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