‘Fitbits’ Make Internal Science Fiction Body Monitoring a Reality

Researchers have built dust particle-sized implantable wireless sensors that can monitor nerves inside the body in real time, according to researchers developing the technology.

In 2012 quadriplegic Jan Scheuerman fed herself for the first time using a robotic hand controlled by her thoughts.

A sensor was wired into her brain which read her neural activity.

Now researchers are working towards making those types of sensors wireless and tiny – smaller than a grain of sand.

Hardly visible to the naked eye, this is what so-called neural dust looks like under a microscope.

In rat experiments, researchers have proven that these tiny implantable machines can record neural activity in real time.

Michel Maharbiz, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley, says: “There is a lot of excitement about the possibility to use neural signals, whether from the peripheral nervous system or the central nervous system, to control or actuate some motor prosthetic.”

That’s still a long way off, but this new research is a big step towards making it a reality. In the near term these tiny sensors may change the way we monitor our health.

“You can almost think of it as sort of an internal, deep tissue Fitbit type of thing where you would be collecting a lot of data that today we think of as hard to access.”

Current medical technologies employ a range of wired electrodes attached to different parts of the body to monitor and treat diseases ranging from heart arrhythmia to epilepsy. The idea here is to make those types of technologies wireless.

The researchers are working on enabling their neural dust to transmit data into the body as well. This would transform these sensors into potential tools to treat neurological disorders.

The next step is make neural dust even smaller. So far the scientists have been able to use their sensors on the peripheral nervous system – to work in the brain they need to be about 50 microns in size . . . the width of a single human hair.