Body 2.0 – Continuous Monitoring Of The Human Body

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Did you ever stop to think how silly and also how dangerous it is to live our lives with absolutely no monitoring of our body's medical status?  Years from now people will look back and find it unbelievable that heart attacks, strokes, hormone imbalances, sugar levels, and hundreds of other bodily vital signs and malfunctions were not being continuously anticipated and monitored by medical implants.  We can call this concept body 2.0, or the networked body, and we need it now!


Above: concept illustration from yankodesign

The trio of biomedicine, technology, and wireless communication are in the midst of a merger that will easily bring continuous, 24x7 monitoring of several crucial bodily functions in the years ahead.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with medical products, the needed innovations are either already developed or will be soon, but some of the best commercial products won't make it to the market until years of testing have proven their safety.

In the future your doctor might call you before you have a heart attack, responding to an alarm sent out by monitoring systems in your body that have detected the precursors to a heart attack hours or days ahead of time.  With body 2.0, medicine dosages could be tailored precisely to your body chemistry and metabolism.  Real-time monitoring of chemical concentrations in your blood could allow for increasing or decreasing dosages accordingly.

The huge amounts of data that would be accumulated from hundreds of thousands of continuously monitored people would be nothing short of a revolution for medical research and analysis.  This data could be harvested to understand the minute by minute changes in body chemistry that occur in response to medication, stress, infection, and so on.   As an example, the daily fluctuations in hormone levels of hundreds of thousands of individuals could be tracked and charted 24/7 to determine a baseline from which abnormalities and patterns could be extracted.  The possibilities are enormous.

Given the advantages, we must wonder why body monitoring is not already more successful and widespread.  The answer is that most of the interesting body monitoring we desire requires direct access to the blood stream and other bodily fluids, and this is not an easy problem to overcome.

A straightforward technique is to prick the skin periodically to extract and analyze blood, yet this only works for periodic monitoring.  It does not provide continuous access to bodily fluids.  Sensors implanted permanently into the blood stream are what is needed, but the difficulty is that moisture, enzymes, and the immune system quickly wreak havoc on mechanical devices and destroy them.  Implants also pose several opportunities for life threatening infection to take hold, and this must be addressed.

The video below opens our eyes to the possibilities:

Although the road to continuous body monitoring poses challenges, these challenges are certainly within our means to overcome, and exciting progress is being made all over the world.  The medical monitoring, device, and implant space is absolutely enormous, so there is no way we can do justice to the myriad of companies and research projects that are out there.  Nevertheless, here are a few of the companies and products that we are aware of:

Proteus Biomedical:

One of the biggest names in the industry is a company we have reported on before, Proteus Biomedical...

Proteus has designed a platform for body monitoring, called Raisin, which measures when and if a patient takes their medication, and also measures how various bodily vital signs, such as heart rate, respond to the medication.  From the Proteus website:

Proteus ingestible event markers (IEMs) are tiny, digestible sensors...Once activated, the IEM sends an ultra low-power, private, digital signal through the body to a microelectronic receiver that is either a small bandage style skin patch or a tiny device insert under the skin. The receiver date- and time-stamps, decodes, and records information such as the type of drug, the dose, and the place of manufacture, as well as measures and reports physiologic measures such as heart rate, activity, and respiratory rate.

All of the data collected by the Proteus system can be sent wirelessly to the doctor for remote monitoring.  The system is currently in clinical development.

proteus_intestible_sensors proteus_chipskin_protected_electronics


Next we have, Cardionet, creator of a system that monitors every heartbeat, non-invasively, during the patient’s normal daily activities, for up to 21 days, and detects, records, and transmits event data automatically to the prescribing physician via wireless phone.  Patients wear three leads attached to a lightweight sensor worn on a neck strap or belt clip that continuously transmit two channels of ECG data to the monitor.  The monitor analyzes the patient’s ECG in real time, heartbeat by heartbeat.

The Cardionet system has been extremely successful, as evidenced by the recent IPO of the company.


Next we have Bodymedia, maker of an arm band, called Sensewear, that enables automated monitoring of calories burned, dietary intake, duration of physical activity and sleep. A USB port allows the patient to periodically upload data from the armband to a website loaded with charts, graphs, and other data that allows both patient and physician to make informed decisions.

sensewear_armband sensewear_core_technology

Click on the report below to see the interesting and detailed data that can be gathered by this system:



Finally, we have Toumaz, maker of a wearable body monitor similar to Sensewear, but apparently even more sophisticated and capable.  The Toumaz system, called Sensium, provides ultra low power monitoring of ECG, temperature, blood glucose and oxygen levels. It can also interface to 3 axis accelerometers, pressure sensors and includes a temperature sensor on chip.  Toumaz offers a product called the Sensium Life Pebble, which streams the data using a wireless datalink over a short range ( ~5m) to a Sensium USB adapter or data logger. The Life Pebble is designed for use in a wide range of professional sports monitoring, lifestyle and healthcare applications.


Above: The Sensium Life Pebble

Of course, there are several technologies that we have missed in this small sampling.  Please use the comments to tell us the ones that you know about!

Discussion — 10 Responses

  • FrankGW March 22, 2009 on 10:40 am

    An interesting, informative post!

    Note that even the Oprah Winfrey Show is getting into “Extreme Life Extension”.
    The show is coming up on Tuesday March 24 and airs at 4 p.m. on ABC.

    “The show is about extreme life extension, including all the latest technologies and new ways that people are extending their lives,” spokesperson Don Halcombe said. “Often people thought that one couldn’t extend one’s life to 120 or 150, but new advances are showing that may indeed be the case.”

    Details can be found on in an article titled “Oprah to feature Murdock, Research Campus March 24″.

  • Reza March 22, 2009 on 5:48 pm

    There is another one, called
    I am looking for a one which let me export the data set and work on it.

  • Jeff Cobb March 22, 2009 on 6:12 pm

    I used to work for a medical device company in Ventura Ca called VivoMetrics..( They made something called the LifeShirt (maybe called something else now) but it would capture not only breath rate, heart rate, blood oxygenation but also breathing patterns (so could detect distressed breathing such as apnea), EEG and more with millisecond resolution. All data was stored on a modified HandSpring Visor (no idea what they are using now; been a few years) on a compact flash card. Generally was good for 24 hours of continuous use. Adding in a wifi card would allow whole groups of people to be monitored from a central station. These groups could be hospital patients, first responders, athletes and soldiers on the battlefield. Oh and the HandSpring ran Linux making it fun to hack 😉


  • J.L.Lee March 23, 2009 on 1:40 pm

    Now all you have to do is keep the insurance folks and the U.S. religious police out of the loop!

  • Reza R. March 23, 2009 on 2:47 pm

    Oh there is another one also

  • Scott Kozicki March 23, 2009 on 8:42 pm

    This isn’t a new concept but it is growing in acceptance. There’s been a movement for awhile to promote these devices in the treatment and engagement of people suffering from chronic illnesses. See for details.

    The recent demonstration of the iPhone 3.0 OS also opened the door to using this great platform for managing illness. See here

    There’s also this group, which is highly regarded:

    Beyond mobility, there are companies who are very engaged in remote physiological monitoring: Phillips, Lifeclinic, Roche, and iMetrikus to name a few.

    While I agree that it’s disturbing that you have more gages on your car than you do your body, there are serious issues with the proliferation of these devices into consumers hands.

    For one, simply gathering a ton of biophysical data doesn’t tell you anything. As any person with diabetes will tell you, your blood glucose changes by the second and simply having it high or low is not necessarily indicative of anything. Much more research needs to be done to determine what the real information is within this data that can be acted upon.

    Secondly, what do you do when you have information? Is it the physician’s responsibility to do something? The patient? And what about false positives? Or accountability if no one acts on a reading? If I have a stroke because my blood pressure was too high and I didn’t do anything, is it the device maker’s liability?

    Lastly, these devices are not cheap. Who pays for them? And who owns the data that they generate?

    Many important things to be worked out before we can gain from the obvious benefits.

  • Jeff Cobb March 23, 2009 on 11:09 pm

    I used to be diabetic too and actually got to use one of the LifeShirts I wrote about above to monitor my post-op recovery from bariatric surgery to get rid of said diabetes. You ask some interesting questions and I can only speak from what was true when I was coding for that company.

    First, who owns the data: Whoever pays for the monitoring time. At that time it took a person trained in the art so to speak to interpret the data, often a physiologist so at least with the raw data, it would not be of much use to the lay person. That said, having a copy of the data and the software to read it (data files were non-trivial to parse) was way-cool for a programmer. It is also useful for getting new drugs to market sooner by proving that they were safe; it was far better than the rather subject way drug companies do it now.

    Also, having all this data doesn’t tell you anything; you cannot expect this to be diagnostic in nature; it is useful for investigating patterns in the data for disease signatures. As for who should act on it, your physician would be the primary person to act. If a disease or other issue is indicated, it should be followed up with more conventional testing. There are no miracles here and barely any standards.

    There is a lot of promise in this data however, at least the type and amount we got from the LifeShirt. It was useful in many ways (some of which were kinda spooky like using it as a lie detector). The problem is it really doesn’t belong in the hands of the consumer with the exception of athletes. Researchers and hospitals are currently where it will do the most good; early disease prediction, drug interaction and safety, things like that.

    For a diabetic, they are not that useful; speaking from experience.

  • Duane Johnson March 27, 2009 on 2:54 pm

    I thought this might be interesting to you, published today I think:

    “Mayo study shows simple finger device may help predict future heart events, such as heart attack”

  • Cwarner December 20, 2010 on 4:44 am

    AAAAAHHH! This is terrifying. “Did you ever stop to think how silly and also how dangerous it is to live our lives with absolutely no monitoring of our body’s medical status?” Well, people did it for tens of thousands of years with absolutely no monitoring, and the human race seems to have got along quite well without implanting itself with digital doctors.

  • Swanbor February 19, 2011 on 4:10 am

    I can’t wait to die.