Researchers Develop IoT Medical Device that Makes Human Body Part of the Internet of Things

Researchers from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel, Switzerland are working on a prototype that would allow gene expression to be activated through electrical impulses, so the human body could become a part of the Internet of Things.

Implants that can be controlled remotely are not new, and there are numerous such applications for smart devices, but new research from Switzerland proves a more complex integration with the human body is possible.

Martin Fussenegger, ETH Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel, along with his team, developed a prototype that would integrate a circuit board and human cells capable of producing insulin. The basic working principle is not all that farfetched.

A small device contains insulin-producing cells and a control unit. An external signal is sent, using either radio or an app, to the control unit that uses a small, induced electric current to stimulate the cells to produce insulin. The system can be set to release insulin automatically, or the user can do it.

The first experiments have been performed on mice, and researchers say they had great success, but it will take a long time to be able to switch to human trials.

“The authors engineered human β cells to respond to membrane depolarization by rapidly releasing insulin from intracellular storage vesicles,” reads the paper in the Science journal. “A bioelectronic device that incorporates the cells can be wirelessly triggered by an external field generator. When subcutaneously implanted in type 1 diabetic mice, the device could be triggered to restore normal blood glucose levels.”

There are still obstacles, as the researchers need to replace the insulin-producing cells every three weeks, but they are working on methods to make the implant more permanent. Fussenegger also addressed possible security issues but explained that it’s no different than a pacemaker and that the same kind of protections would be needed.

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