FDA Approves Microchip Technology

By Ellen Kuwana

The VeriChip
Image used with the permission of Applied Digital Solutions.

Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer
October 18, 2004

"Bones," the doctor on the TV show "Star Trek," had all sorts of cool gadgets that he waved over crew members in order to diagnose what was wrong with them. Now, science has caught up to the fiction. On Wednesday, October 13, 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval to Applied Digital Solutions to use their "VeriChip" as a medical device in humans.

The VeriChip is a tiny electronic capsule that is about the size of a grain of rice. It fits inside a syringe, and is placed under the skin in the arm, much like a shot. The procedure can be done in under 20 minutes and requires no stitches. Once implanted, the chip is not detectable by eye. Instead of delivering a vaccine or medicine, however, this shot delivers information: radio frequency information (RFID). This translates to a 16-digit number being encoded into your arm.

This technology is already used in 1 million pets in the US: a chip is implanted under the skin of the pet's back. If the pet is lost, any shelter or veterinary clinic can scan the lost animal.

Photograph by Greg Whitesell
A readout on the scanner produces a number, which can be looked up in a computer database, providing the owner's name and contact information. For around $50, you can have the assurance that your pet, if lost, will be able to track you down.

Although most people have no argument with implanting identity chips into animals, the issues get stickier with humans. What information will be stored? How secure will the information be? Who will have access to the information? What if you want the chip removed?

At this time, the chip will contain only a 16-digit number. With this number, health care professionals, with a VeriChip scanner will be able to access medical files on a national database. Only information approved by the individual will be accessible in this database. VeriChip believes that people will choose to include basic medical information such as blood type and drug allergies that health care providers need quickly -- information that can save lives. If you are in an accident and arrive at the hospital unconscious, for example, the chip will do the talking for you, providing vital information to the health care professionals. This could be advantageous and fill a technology gap in our "medically mobile" society, where a patient can see many specialists (dematologist, oncologist, endocrinologist) and therefore have medical records at multiple sites -- yet the systems that keep those records may not be able to "talk" to each other to share information.

Another possible medical application would be using the RFID technology to help track the movements of patients with Alzheimer's disease, who have a tendency to wander away from care facilities.

While the makers of VeriChip are focusing on medical applications for the technology, they foresee additional security and financial applications. For example, the attorney general of Mexico and about 160 of his staff members have each been implanted with a chip. The chip allows only certain staff members access to high security rooms. In a more carefree setting, VIP club-goers in Barcelona, Spain, have gotten "chipped" in order to access VIP rooms within clubs; the chip links their identity with a payment system.

Use of the chip, it seems, is limited only by the imagination and by what the public deems acceptable use. Perhaps one day you can say "Beam Me Up, Scottie" and the chip will convey your request to your spaceship, which will come pick you up curbside.

Did you Know!About 7000 chips have been sold for use in humans; 1000 have been implanted.
(Source: ID chip for humans wins approval by FDA, by Rob Stein, in the Seattle Times, October 14, 2004.)

References and Further Information:

  1. To Chip or Not to Chip? by Ellen Kuwana, Neuroscience for Kids, May 21, 2002.
  2. ID chip for humans wins approval by FDA, by Rob Stein, in the Seattle Times, October 14, 2004.
  3. FDA Approved Implantable Chip for Patient's Health Data, by the Associated Press, October 13, 2004.
  4. Identity Badge Worn Under Skin Approved for Use in the Health Care, The New York Times, October 14, 2004.

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