BUFFALO, N.Y. – The military has for decades used sonar
for underwater communication.
Now, researchers at the University at Buffalo are developing a
miniaturized version of the same technology to be applied inside
the human body to treat diseases such as diabetes and heart failure
in real time.
The advancement relies on sensors that use ultrasounds –
the same inaudible sound waves used by the navy for sonar and
doctors for sonograms – to wirelessly share information
between medical devices implanted in or worn by people.
“This is a biomedical advancement that could revolutionize
the way we care for people suffering from the major diseases of our
time,” said Tommaso Melodia, PhD, UB associate professor of
His research, “Towards Ultrasonic Networking for
Implantable Biomedical Device,” is supported by a five-year,
$449,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant. The CAREER
award is the foundation’s most prestigious for young
Details of Melodia’s work can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/17y2njQ.
The idea of creating a network of wireless body sensors, also
called a “body area network,” is not new. Development
of the technology began roughly 10 years ago.
But most work has focused on linking sensors together via
electromagnetic radio frequency waves – the same type used in
cellular phones, GPS units and other common wireless devices.
Radio waves can be effective but they have drawbacks such as the
heat they generate. Also, because radio waves propagate poorly
through skin, muscle and other body tissue, they require relatively
large amounts of energy, he said.
Ultrasounds may be a more efficient way to share information,
Melodia said, because roughly 65 percent of the body is composed of
water. This suggests that medical devices, such as a pacemaker and
an instrument that measures blood oxygen levels, could communicate
more effectively via ultrasounds compared to radio waves.
“Think of how the Navy uses sonar to communicate between
submarines and detect enemy ships,” Melodia said.
“It’s the same principle, only applied to ultrasonic
sensors that are small enough to work together inside the human
body and more effectively help treat diseases.”
Another example involves connecting blood glucose sensors with
implantable insulin pumps. The sensors would monitor the blood and
regulate, through the pumps, the dosage of insulin as needed in
“We are really just scratching the surface of what’s
possible. There are countless potential applications,” he
Melodia will use the NSF grant to do more modeling and conduct
experiments with ultrasonic, wireless body sensor networks. The
grant will support UB PhD student G. Enrico Santagati, who already
has contributed significantly to the project, as well as UB
The research will address issues such as how to:
- design transmission schemes to accurately relay information
between sensors without causing body tissue to overheat
- design networking protocols specialized for intra-body
- how to model ultrasonic interference
- accurately simulate ultrasonic networks
- design the first existing reconfigurable testbed for
experimental evaluation of ultrasonic networks.
Melodia is a member of the Signals, Communications and
Networking Research Group in UB’s Department of Electrical
Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The
group carries out research in: wireless communications and
networking, cognitive radios, extreme environment (i.e.,
underwater, underground) communications, secure communications,
data hiding, information theory and coding, adaptive signal
processing, compressed sensing, multimedia
systems, magnetic resonance imaging and radar systems.
Other members of the group include professors Stella N.
Batalama, Adly T. Fam, Dimitris A. Pados, Mehrdad Soumekh;
associate professors Michael Langberg, Weifeng Su and Leslie Ying;
and assistant professors Nicholas Mastronarde, Gesualdo Scutari,
Zhi Sun, Josep M. Jornet.