2012
08.30

The Body Connected

M2M technology is enjoying a growing place in the healthcare industry. There are systems to help patients track their vital signs, their fitness, and their improvement over time. M2M solutions also exist for monitoring patients both in the hospital and at home, giving doctors more options when it comes to patient care.

I enjoy hearing about the possibilities for M2M in healthcare, and news about an amazing possible use for technology in medicine sparked my imagination—it’s a use that could essentially turn the human body into an M2M system.

We know there are medical devices that can monitor vital signs and transmit the data, such as glucose meters and heart-rate monitors. But what if the sensor was in the body? What if the tissue itself could send a signal? The possibilities for round-the-clock monitoring would be nearly endless.

Researchers from a multi-institutional team, including Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently released information about their work on what they call “cyborg” tissues, or tissue that is grown around embedded networks of biocompatible nanoscale wires. According to the team, they accomplished this feat by creating networks of wires porous enough to allow for seeding with cells that could grow in cultures.

One of the goals of the research is to use the embedded technology to sense conditions and changes within the tissue. Researchers suggest that someday, bioengineered tissues with embedded technology could be used to sense changes within the body, and then trigger a response. In a sense, it’s as if the tissue itself is part of a connected system, measuring conditions and initiating an action. Researchers said the responses could include things like the release of a drug or electrical stimulation by an implanted device.

So instead of a device measuring the body’s conditions, the tissue itself would do the measuring and reporting. There aren’t a lot of details right now on what might be possible, but I love the ideas this suggests. Instead of taking medication on a set schedule, sensors could determine when it’s needed by detecting changes in the body. Perhaps the sensors communicate automatically to a base station, which alerts the patient. These cyborg tissues may also be able to detect body conditions in a much more sensitive way than traditional sensors. Perhaps they could open the door to more refined treatments for diseases, providing extremely customized medicine and treatment plans. The future is wide open thanks to embedded technologies like this one.

Use of these tissues in actual patients is likely still a long ways off, but it’s fascinating to see where the science is headed. As connected technology becomes part of more and more devices, it’s exciting to think it could actually become part of the body.

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