You wouldn’t think of driving a car or flying a plane without a dashboard. Soon having a dashboard for your body that monitors all of your health metrics 24/7 will be as common as dashboards on cars. The IoB (Internet of Bodies) is an exciting application of Internet of Things technology for human health and wellness. Sensors that can be worn, implanted, or swallowed will collect data on the state of all your body's systems and health metrics. The current gold standard of preventive care; an annual checkup with accompanying blood work and an EKG will soon look like something from the stone age of medicine.
Management guru Peter Drucker said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Yet we personally have little or no ongoing objective data on the most important thing we are all responsible to manage, our bodies. Our personal health collectively impacts more than just our own lives and the lives of our immediate family. Skyrocketing health care costs are a serious economic and political problem for society as well as for personal finances. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2019 found that 66.5% of bankruptcies in the U.S. were due to medical expenses and loss of work from health issues.
The first wave of IoB devices were wearable fitness trackers. According to Forbes:
The global fitness tracker market is projected to grow from $36.34 billion in 2020 to $114.36 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 15.4% in forecast period 2021-2028
The use of mHealth apps on smartphones experienced exponential growth during the pandemic. Fortune Business Insights has the stats:
The global impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and staggering, with mHealth apps witnessing a significant positive demand shock across all regions amid the pandemic. As per our analysis, the global market exhibited a growth of 65.7% in 2020, reflecting a considerable positive growth trajectory during the forecast period. The market is estimated to register USD 38.89 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 314.60 billion in 2028 with a CAGR of 34.8% in the 2021-2028 period.
In addition to wearables, fitness equipment like the Peloton bike comes with a plethora of digital tracking capabilities.
The College of Engineering at Purdue University officially launched its Center for Internet of Bodies, in December, 2021.
Realizing the possible transformative impact of IoB, Purdue will become the first entity to create and dedicate a center to IoB research.
“C-IoB will be a place where connectivity, security and edge-intelligence meet the human body to usher in the future of body electronics and transform and enrich lives,” said the center’s director, Shreyas Sen, an Elmore Associate Professor in Purdue University’s Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
Calorie-counters, diet apps, sleep trackers, and heart rate monitors were just the initial baby step into the potential of IoB technology. Coming to market now are sensors and apps that provide a much deeper view into our body's systems and their health status.
Levels is a consumer health and wellness company committed to improving metabolic health through biowearables. By leveraging biosensors like continuous glucose monitors (CGM), Levels provides real-time feedback on how diet and lifestyle choices impact your metabolic health. Everyone is different, the effect on blood sugar levels from different foods, and exercise can vary greatly from person to person. Levels will allow you to tailor your diet and lifestyle to match your unique metabolism and monitor the impact of changes on your health.
Another consumer product, the Oura smart ring records your heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels, breathing rate, skin temperature, and has a sleep tracker, measuring time spent in each sleep stage with more capabilities to come. You don’t need to manually start and stop activities. Oura automatically detects over 30 activities for you, tracking metrics and delivering insights afterward.
The Wall Street Journal leaked Apple’s plans for a subscription healthcare service based on health and medical data gathered by the iPhone and the Apple Watch. We can expect more sensors on the Apple watch that expand its ability to monitor more and more of your body's health metrics. It seems that Apple is intending to build a comprehensive IoB platform that can integrate all aspects of the healthcare system.
etectRx embeds wireless sensors into prescription pills, which are activated once they reach a patient’s stomach. The patients wear a reader while taking the etectRx pills. The reader receives the data from the smart pill and transmits it to a secure smartphone application. The data is also shared with the patient’s physician. The purpose of the sensor is to ensure that the patient is adhering to the dosage schedule for the medication.
In 2021, etectRx reached an agreement with Pear Therapeutics to develop two products that will combine etectRx’s medication adherence sensors with Pear’s digital therapeutics. The combined sensor technologies will not only track adherence but will also allow patients to see when their medication is working.
The PillCam™ SB 3 system allows for direct visualization of the small bowel, supporting greater confidence when monitoring lesions3 that may be related to Crohn’s disease, obscure bleeding, or iron deficiency anemia. The system features advanced optics and imaging designed to deliver exceptional images of the mucosa.
Co-founded by Elon Musk, Neuralink is developing implantable brain–machine interfaces. The eventual goal is to enhance the human brain's cognitive capabilities, for both therapeutic and non-therapeutic applications. Neuralink has received FDA approval to test its brain device in human patients. The initial Neuralink application will be to to give people with quadriplegia the ability to control computers and mobile devices directly.
Synchron has developed an endovascular brain computer interface that can access every corner of the brain using its natural highways, the blood vessels. Synchron received FDA approval for human trials of it's Stentrode Motor Prosthesis, a brain-computer interface (BCI). Synchron was also awarded a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help fund the trial. This first BCI application is focused on improving the capacity for the activities of daily living tasks for patients with severe paralysis. Synchron was the first company to receive FDA appovl for human trials of a Brain chip.
Verichip has won FDA approval for an implantable passive RFID microchip, which would enable doctors to access patients medical records from the implanted chip. According to Verichip: About the size of a grain of rice, the microchip inserts just under the skin and contains only a unique, 16-digit identifier. The chip itself does not contain any other data other than this unique electronic ID, nor does it contain any Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking capabilities. And unlike conventional forms of identification, the VeriChip™ cannot be lost, stolen, misplaced, or counterfeited. It is safe, secure, reversible, and always with you.
Ethical, Privacy and Regulatory Issues
Along with unprecedented benefits and opportunities, the Internet of Bodies is opening a Pandoras box of ethical, privacy and regulatory challenges. Many IoB devices, especially those available for consumer use, do not fall under FDA jurisdiction. Protection of medical information in the USA is regulated federally by HIPAA regulations but with the management of huge amounts of personal medical data passing into the hands of individual consumers the privacy risks and the risks of unauthorized use and hacking multiply exponentially. Cybersecurity, already a concern with personal financial information and identity theft will now grow to include sensitive personal medical and biometric data.
A Giant Leap Forward
Certainly the potential benefits to greatly improved public health and the promise of greatly reduced healthcare costs to society make solving the ethical, privacy and regulatory challenges a worthwhile endeavor. The IoB holds the promise of curing many of the self-inflicted life-style causes of disease, a primary cause of health care costs, and reduced quality of life. When people are in full control and have full access to real time information in a process they are managing they tend to be much more successful. Hopefully one of the benefits of the IoB, having a dashboard that provides real time data on every life choice, will motivate people to make better choices. Certainly, having very early detection of disease will be a game changer for both survivability and preventive care.
While many technological advances have been of questionable benefit - Social media comes to mind - the IoB has the potential to bring quantum improvements in our health and quality of life. Or perhaps like Social Media it will just add another layer of neurosis and stress to daily life as our already information overloaded brains see in minute detail how every choice we make effects our health. Either way, get ready for a brave new world in health and wellness.