It is a classic image: a critically ill patient in a hospital bed connected to various medical devices by wires and IV tubing for monitoring and treatment. These devices are attached to the wall beside the bed and wired into the hospital infrastructure. While this is certainly still a real and necessary role for medical devices, the needs have expanded to include many other locations, roles in patient care, types of devices and connections to patients and devices.
Cell phones and fl ashlights operate by battery without trouble. Yet because of the limited lifespan, battery power is not a feasible option for many applications in the fields of medicine or test engineering, such as implants or probes. Researchers have now developed a process that supplies these systems with power and without the power cord.
For more than 50 years, pacemakers have set the rhythm for many hearts. The engineering of microelectronic implants has since advanced by leaps and bounds: they have become ever-smaller and more technologically sophisticated. The trend is moving toward miniaturized, intelligent systems that will take over therapeutic and diagnostic functions. For example, in the future implantable sensors will measure glucose levels, blood pressure or the oxygen saturation of tumorous tissue, transmitting patient data via telemetry. Meanwhile, medication dosing systems and infusion pumps will be able to deliver a targeted release of pharmaceutical substances in the body, alleviating side effects in the process.
Researchers say they’re designing patch-like devices to wirelessly transmit information about a person’s vital health statistics, potentially freeing patients from the wires and sticky electrodes of electroencephalograms (EEGs) and electrocardiogram (EKGs).
The devices, currently envisioned to be more like a temporary tattoo than a medical patch, could conceivably measure heart activity and brain waves, said John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who spoke about the new research at a conference this week.
“The big benefit would be the ability to continuously monitor health and wellness,” Rogers said. “There’s a lot of interest in personalized medicine and the quantified self, and hardware is key.”
Wireless charging may one day replace plugs and wires similar to how Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have modernized personal communication. Wireless charging with inductive coupling uses an electromagnetic field that transfers energy from the transmitter to the receiver, and this technology is a suitable method to charge medical devices.
Wireless transfer of power is not new. In 1831, Michael Faraday discovered induction and stated that electromagnetic forces can travel through space. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Nicola Tesla began demonstrating wireless broadcasting and power transmission. Early experiments in Colorado Springs in 1899 lead to the Wardenclyffe Tower in New York—Tesla was adamant to prove that electrical power could be transmitted without wires, but lack of funding halted the project.
New research by electrical engineers at Oregon State University has confirmed that an electronic technology called “ultrawideband” could hold part of the solution to an ambitious goal in the future of medicine — health monitoring with sophisticated “body-area networks
Some remote health monitoring is already available, but the perfection of such systems is still elusive.
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