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Body Area Networks & Pervasive Health Monitoring

Recent advances in microelectronics and wireless networking are moving closer to turning devices once thought of as science fiction into clinical reality. Ultra-small medical sensors/actuators can be either worn or implanted inside the body to collect or deliver a variety of medical information and services. The networking ability between these body devices and also possible integration with existing IT infrastructure could result into a pervasive environment that can convey health-related information between the user's location and the healthcare service provider. This flexibility for greater physical mobility (i.e. mHealth) directly translates into a significantly higher healthcare experience; and therefore, higher quality of life.

Body Area Network (BAN) is a technology that allows communication between ultra-small and ultra low-power intelligent sensors/devices that are located on the body surface or implanted inside the body. In addition, the wearable/implantable nodes can also communicate to a controller device that is located in the vicinity of the body. These radio-enabled sensors can be used to continuously gather a variety of important health and/or physiological data (i.e. information critical to providing care) wirelessly. Radio-enabled implantable medical devices offer a revolutionary set of applications among which we can point to smart pills for precision drug delivery, intelligent endoscope capsules, glucose monitors and eye pressure sensing systems. Similarly, wearable sensors allow for various medical/physiological monitoring (e.g. electrocardiogram, temperature, respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure), disability assistance, human performance management, etc.

A simple example of BAN application would be a device equipped with a built in reservoir and pump. This device can administer just the right amount of insulin to a diabetic person based on wirelessly received glucose level measurements from another body sensor. Having such novel uses in pervasive healthcare, BAN is regarded as a promising interdisciplinary technology that could have a huge impact on advancing Health-IT and telemedicine with its widespread commercialization. Although, the technology to create miniature-size devices for these applications is within reach, there are still several technical challenges, including interference issues, reliability, energy efficiency, and security issues that need to be addressed. 

The Pervasive IT program within NIST's Information Technology Laboratory is conducting several research projects related to these topics. These include: