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Smaller, Smarter Medical Sensors Will Transform Healthcare

Smaller, Smarter Medical Sensors Will Transform Healthcare
Advances in sensor technology and data analytics are coming together to put unprecedented power and insight into the hands of patients and healthcare providers.    

Advances in sensor technology and data analytics are coming together to put unprecedented power and insight into the hands of patients and healthcare providers.  

Chad Bouton

Bouton

What’s the next big thing in medical sensors? Advances in sensor technology and data analytics are coming together to put unprecedented power and insight into the hands of patients and healthcare providers.

The Promise of Smart Sensors

Imagine a medical sensor that continually analyzes patient activity levels, vital signs, and other data points and predicts a potential heart attack before the patient even feels sick. Or a neural sensor implanted directly into the nervous system that automatically adjusts a neural stimulator in response to pain signals. These scenarios may be closer than you think.

Here’s how the next generation of medical sensors will transform healthcare:

  • Help patients better manage chronic conditions. Tiny, high-resolution sensors powered by advanced analytics will soon allow doctors and patients to monitor changing needs in real time to better manage chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis. Advanced analytical engines could monitor signals from multiple sensor types and provide personalized, real-time recommendations for individual patients.
  • Provide early warning for emerging medical problems. Smart sensors could use predictive analytics to alert doctors to developing signs of kidney failure, stroke, heart failure, and other medical crises before adverse events occur. Injectable biosensors could be used to monitor cancer patients in remission for biomarkers that could indicate a recurrence.
  • Automate smart medical devices. Combining data analytics and sensor data can help us “close the loop” to create smart devices that adjust medication delivery or perform other actions in response to real-time patient needs.
  • Enable life-changing neural technologies. Combining data analytics and neural sensors allows us to power smart neural devices, such as a neurostimulator that fires in response to data from an implanted neural sensor. Smart neural devices could help patients better manage conditions such as Parkinson’s or rheumatoid arthritis or power innovative neural bypass technologies for paralyzed patients. Battelle NeuroLife, for example, uses data analytics to power a sophisticated forearm cuff that that restores conscious, dexterous control of the fingers and hands for patients with neural and spinal cord damage. 

The Path to the Future

New advances in materials science, device engineering, and data analytics are coming together to make the next generation of medical sensors smaller, smarter, and more powerful than ever before. Here are some advances device developers should watch for:

  • Smaller sensors: Continued advances in miniaturization will expand the potential uses of medical sensors and improve biocompatibility for long-term monitoring. Extreme miniaturization may soon allow development of tiny devices that could be injected into the blood stream to monitor kidney or thyroid function or neural implants that can eavesdrop on an individual nerve.
  • More sensitive sensors: Technology advances will also improve the sensitivity and spatial resolution for medical sensors, yielding more useful data for diagnostics and therapeutic applications.
  • Smarter sensors: Advances in data analytics are driving some of the biggest developments in medical sensors. Battelle EluciData, an analytical engine for medical sensors, is already powering smart drug-delivery devices and innovative neuro-rehab technologies like NeuroLife.

What’s next? As data analytics and medical sensor technology continue to advance, the industry will be able to go beyond individual patient data to harness the predictive power of massive data sets. This data could be used to analyze device efficacy and make improvements to device designs. It could also help us move beyond clinical trial results to develop make smarter predictions for specific patient populations. When more powerful sensors are combined with smarter data analytics, the possibilities are endless.

Learn about the role of pervasive sensor technologies in healthcare at the MEDevice San Diego conference, September 1–2, 2015.

Chad Bouton is a research leader at Battelle, the world’s largest independent R&D organization.

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