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I.Q. Project Highlight: Implantable Sensors

ECE Associate Professor Kaushik Chowdhury is advancing healthcare as his research looks at implantable sensors that communicate with each other through the human body. These implants will have the ability to transmit measurements, receive updates on drug delivery volumes, and directly initiate actions of embedded actuators.

All these functions require energy efficient communication between implants through body tissue. And therein lies the problem, what is the most effective way for embedded sensors to communicate?

Architecture of the implanted network, with the sensor sampling multiple physiological parameters, and communicating with both an implanted actuator, as well as an on-skin relay node. The sensor collects data that may trigger the remote actuator, as well as can be recorded for offline processing/real time monitoring by experts. The dotted lines show the “galvanic coupled” data links formed by weak electric currents.

 

Professor Chowdhury believes the answer is in the body itself. Rather than using over the air radio frequencies (RF), which not only propagates poorly in tissue but also causes localized temperature rise, he advocates for communication between devices with weak electrical currents that leverage the natural conductivity of human tissue.

His research can result in effective communication and energy savings of two orders of magnitude within tissues compared to RF. This technology will specifically result in long-lived implanted sensors that cannot be periodically retrieved for energy replenishment. Moreover, the implant construction is also more simplistic as the “antenna” takes the form of two contact electrodes, which can be made extremely small to allow miniaturized sensor form factors. This approach is called “galvanic coupled” communication.

Along with modeling this intra-body channel, Professor Chowdhury’s group is developing a communication protocol that the sensors would use to incorporate transmitter parameters selection, medium access control, multicast transmissions, end-to-end data delivery through relays, and latency calculations.

The broad impacts of this research could be monumental in health sciences, from more precise monitoring of athletes, military personnel, the elderly, and infants, to allowing people to be more proactive in their health assessment and extending the human lifespan. His group is specifically targeting diabetes control and assistive technologies for elderly populations through this technology.

By designing both the sensors themselves and the communication protocol, this work provides a complete solution to next generation health monitoring and drug delivery.

In the future, implant-based communications could drastically change the way we view our wellbeing through in-home and continuous monitoring. As implants assist in uninterrupted gathering of sensor data and performing background analysis, we are not too far from the paradigm where “a data upload a day keeps the doctor away!"

Related Faculty: Kaushik Chowdhury

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering