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Patient-Centered Network Could Go Wireless, Bringing Together Multiple Devices

Originally Published MDDI March 2005 R&D DIGEST  

Originally Published MDDI March 2005

R&D DIGEST

Erik Swain

The body area network technology could be used to monitor a patient in the hospital and at home.

Research and development efforts at a Belgian foundation have produced a wireless network that could connect a patient to multiple devices used throughout a hospital, from glucose monitors to electroencephalograms. This network, according to IMEC (Leuven, Belgium), could enable easier monitoring of patients in the hospital or at home and improve their quality of life.

IMEC is now looking for a device company to provide funding for further development and to eventually provide commercialization.

The researchers have created a personal body area network (BAN) that consists of a series of miniature actuator and sensor nodes with their own energy supplies. These nodes communicate with a central node worn on the body, enabling remote monitoring of simultaneous devices and functions related to the patient. The BAN prototype senses electromyogram, electroencephalogram, and electrocardiogram readings at the same time. Eventually, monitoring of conditions such as glucose and blood pressure levels, or monitoring of implanted devices including pacemakers and artificial hips, could be part of the same network.

In addition to disease management, the BAN could be used for diagnostics, biometrics, and fitness monitoring.

“This is something that could address a number of trends in healthcare, from the aging society to its rising costs,” says Katrien Marent, IMEC's corporate communications manager.

She also notes that not only could the BAN make the entire monitoring process more efficient, but its capabilities for remote monitoring could allow patients to spend less time in the hospital. “We are working to get the size of the [central] node down to that of a small Band-Aid.”

A number of challenges remain. These include finding a way to provide perpetual power to the system, increasing the interaction between the actuators and sensors, developing better processing and memory capabilities, and enabling devices to better measure and understand human physiology.

IMEC is best known for its research and development of semiconductor technology, and the BAN derives many of its ideas from that field. A crucial concept is the ability to produce small electronic devices that require very little power. The research also takes cues from microsystem technology, nanotechnology, energy scavengers, processor architectures, and wireless technology.

The high level of integration is achieved through a technology known as 3-D stacking. Each layer of nodes connects to its neighboring layers through fine-pitch solder balls. The dual nature of the parts allows modules to be built up in any number of ways, so each layer can have a different functionality. Functions such as computing, wireless communication, sensing, and power scavenging may all be part of the same system.

Copyright ©2005 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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