Today I heard an airplane defined as a number of parts flying in formation. That is an accurate description of an airplane if your work is to maintain or repair airplanes. But that definition isn’t right for marketing air travel to people who fly as often as I do. I would prefer to know that the whole airplane, including the human crew, is going to get me to my destination safely and on time. The idea that wireless sensors implanted in your body that feed information to a smart phone can help maintain your body like a number of parts, walking, running, driving or flying in formation is very exciting. It is sensational to think that we could collect minute by minute information to manage our body and take actions to prevent or control chronic illness. The idea that a diabetic could wear or have an implanted device to monitor blood glucose levels and then have that device wireless talk to an insulin pump could be a real game changing event for all types of diabetics. Close control of blood glucose levels really helps prevent damage, sometimes irreversible damage to the body, for example. How about a real time wireless notification when blood sugar levels are too low, like when you are sleeping, for example? Better yet, an alarm that notifies you and someone else to check on you.
There is an excellent article about the research on wireless sensors implanted in the body to provide medical information at “The internet of you: How wireless medical implants will change medicine“. The article captures the challenges faced by implanting silicon based chips and how quickly the body will attack and try to repel them out of the body. However, having personally seen the success of implanted devices to monitor and manage epilepsy in children, this type of research deserves more attention and funding to make breakthroughs. Instead of a large belt-worn device wired with electrodes into the brain, how about miniaturization into a small waterproof hearing aid sized device? The potential is definitely there for real breakthroughs. A great example is using tiny nerve signals to control prosthetic devices to allow more sophisticated fine motor skills. The ability to tap into the auditory nerve to address hearing loss is another example where the device may one day be implanted and then wireless stream signals to an external device.
I believe that the next step is to use the smart phone platform to coordinate these sensors, provide the necessary feedback loops to the patient and doctor, and allow fine tuning for various sets of conditions encountered in daily living. The ability to capture real-time information that is streaming from the sensors and correlate that information into a complete picture for decision-making should be the goal. There is some degree of certainty that we will have to work through protecting wireless implants from hackers and simple mistakes that anyone can make, but those hurdles can be overcome to achieve a higher quality of life for people struggling with managing chronic illness or disabilities.
I can imagine a future where my glasses have a heads-up display (HUD) of my vitals, and management of my body including that pain in my knee, on demand. Can you?