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Case to develop two-way wireless biological sensors

Case Western Reserve University : 02 February, 2007  (Technical Article)
Scientists at Case Western Reserve University are carving out a revolutionary new paradigm for the health care market with cutting-edge, implantable, wireless biological sensors smaller than an aspirin.
'This is a unique joint research project where scientists in electrical engineering and computer science will help those in medicine to find cutting-edge solutions to modern biological and genetic research issues,' said Darrin Young, principle investigator and professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science.

As part of a new trend toward unifying several bulky external devices into one implantable sensor system, the new device underway at Case will simultaneously monitor a variety of biological signals including heart rate, blood pressure and temperature and hold the potential to some day help doctors and patients detect a seizure or a heart attack before it starts.

'This device is a watershed concept that can revolutionize health care as we know it,' said Joseph Nadeau, co-principal investigator and chair of the department of genetics at the Case School of Medicine. 'Today, health care is reactive. We respond to a crisis like a heart attack after it has already begun. But in the future, implanted biological sensors can be proactive health care solutions, gathering signals from inside the body to help monitor a patient's health minute-to-minute, helping us to catch a heart attack or a seizure before it starts.

'At the other extreme, Nadeau continued, 'these miniature devices could be designed to recognize a series of biological events and notify someone to stop driving and seek immediate medical attention. They could even be designed to e-mail or page a physician.'

The wireless sensor under development at Case will help scientists link diseases like epilepsy and hypertension to their genetic origins by revealing information about certain traits, like high blood pressure, which may indicate susceptibility to disease. The tiny device will include onboard computer intelligence to record and report real-time data from inside the body of a lab mouse to a remote desktop computer. The computer will be equipped with high-tech signal processing software that will synthesize the sensor's raw data to help scientists extract meaningful information.

'This miniature device is on the cutting edge of electrical engineering and computer science research with a central microprocessor at its core,' said Young. 'The implant integrates biological sensors and sensing electronics, which pick up the data gathered by the biological sensors. Electronic telemetry circuits inside the tiny device will wirelessly transmit the information from inside the device to a nearby receiver for further signal processing before the data reaches a remote computer and also receive incoming commands from the computer to intelligently control the implant system and provide it with radio frequency power.'

High-tech market research firms report that revenues for next-generation biological sensors designed to anticipate a heart attack will be a significant portion of a $50 billion industry in 10 years. Case researchers hope to see this cutting-edge technology reach commercialization within five years to help revolutionize the health care industry and to help boost opportunities for early intervention for patients who experience medical crises like a heart attack or seizure.

'The human genome project is still in its early stages and technical advances are important to its mission,' said Ken Loparo, co-principal investigator and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Case School of Engineering. 'We are developing a unique two-way device, 10 times smaller than any device on the market for laboratory use, and more capable.'

The sensor will provide data to a remote computer for processing, analysis, interpretation and feedback, but, simultaneously, the computer will control the operating characteristics of the sensor, Loparo adds. For example, the computer will send signals to lower the sensor's power consumption when no data output is needed or to reconfigure the sensor to collect different types of data.

The Case project is supported by grant from the National Science Foundation, following a highly competitive review of nearly 1,000 applications from around the United States. Co- investigators Wen Ko, professor emeritus, and Murat Cavusoglu, professor, both in the department of electrical engineering and computer science also are involved in the design of the device. Ko is developing the miniature system with biocompatible implant packaging to help sustain it inside the body and, ultimately, determine the long-term performance of the device.
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