Giving your heart its very own IP address

Giving your heart its very own IP address


Wireless technology often looked upon as a means for communication and resourcefulness, can also mean the difference between life and death for some people. Take cardiac patients for example, many have an implanted defibrillator that is designed to give an automatic “shock” every time their heart rate takes a spike. This is because the defibrillator concludes that the person is having a heart attack and the shock should jump-start the heart back to a normal rate. But what if you just happen to be getting excited about something. A spike in heart rate is normal in that case.

Well, IMEC of the Netherlands has developed a new type of wireless body area network (BAN). The Human++BAN platform effectively takes the IMEC ultra-low-power electrocardiogram sensors and allows them to be short-range wireless transmitters. Your heart rate (or some other metric) is being sent wirelessly to your cell phone, which can then work as a data hub.

This data can then be forwarded along to doctors or other medical professionals via a 3G or Wi-Fi connection as needed, as well as having the information available (via an Android app) on the phone itself. Should the phone app discover a spike in your heart rate, for example, it could sound an alarm and you could check your phone to see what’s happening with your body. If it’s not a heart attack, you can do what you can to slow down your heart rate and prevent that electric shock from kicking in.

The same idea can be applied to other “low-power medical sensors, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor neurological conditions or electromyograms to detect neuromuscular diseases.” This sounds like a system that can offer a lot of promise for patient self-monitoring, as well as real-time data for their attending physicians and other medical staff.

Interestingly, instead of using an existing short-range wireless standard like Bluetooth, the system using a special nRF24L01+ radio developed by Norway’s Nordic Semiconductor. This sensor, which would presumably be implanted through surgical means into the patient, uses much less power to run continuously. It’ll send signals every 100 milliseconds for up to seven days at a time. If they went with Bluetooth, the same frequency would only work for about a day.

If that’s the case, it’d be interesting to see if a similar wireless radio could be used outside the medical context for our gadgets. Think about a Bluetooth-esque watch or something that connects to your phone, receiving text messages and other notifications from your mobile every couple of seconds.

Body organs can send status updates to your cellphone [New Scientist]