Posted in | News | Nanomedicine

Biomolecular Communication Enables Networking of Nano-Implants

The evolution of biological computing machines, like micro and nano-implants gathering crucial data within the human body, is reshaping medicine.

Blood vessels, arterial system 3D rendering

Image Credit: ustas7777777/

However, establishing their networking for communication has posed significant challenges. Recently, a multinational team, including researchers from EPFL, devised a protocol facilitating a molecular network equipped with multiple transmitters.

Initially, there was the Internet of Things (IoT), and now, at the intersection of computer science and biology, emerges the Internet of Bio-Nano Things (IoBNT), poised to transform medicine and healthcare.

IoBNT encompasses biosensors gathering and analyzing data, nanoscale Labs-on-a-Chip conducting medical tests within the body, employing bacteria to engineer biological nano-machines detecting pathogens, and nano-robots navigating the bloodstream for precise drug delivery and treatment. This convergence holds immense potential for advancing healthcare and revolutionizing medical practices.

Overall, this is a very, very exciting research field. With advances in bio-engineering, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology, the idea is that nano-biosensors will revolutionize medicine because they can reach places and do things that current devices or larger implants can’t.

Haitham Al Hassanieh, Assistant Professor and Head, Laboratory of Sensing and Networking Systems, School of Computer and Communication Sciences, EPFL

Despite the excitement surrounding this cutting-edge research field, significant hurdles persist: establishing communication with a nano-robot inside a person's body. Conventional methods, such as wireless radios, are effective for sizable implants like pacemakers or defibrillators but are not scalable to micro and nanoscale dimensions. Moreover, wireless signals cannot permeate through body fluids.

The solution to this challenge is biomolecular communication, inspired by the body’s communication mechanisms. Unlike traditional methods using electromagnetic waves, biomolecular communication employs biological molecules as carriers and information, mimicking the natural communication processes in biology.

In its basic form, biomolecular communication encodes ‘1’ and ‘0’ bits by releasing or withholding molecular particles into the bloodstream, resembling ON-OFF-Keying in wireless networks.

Biomolecular communication has emerged as the most suitable paradigm for networking nano-implants. It is an incredible idea that we can send data by encoding it into molecules which then go through the bloodstream and we can communicate with them, guiding them on where to go and when to release their treatments, just like hormones.

Haitham Al Hassanieh, Assistant Professor and Head, Laboratory of Sensing and Networking Systems, School of Computer and Communication Sciences, EPFL

Recently, Al Hassanieh and his team, along with scientists in the United States, presented their paper on Practical and Scalable Molecular Networks at ACM SIGCOMM 2023, a flagship annual conference on Data Communication, in which they outlined their MoMA (Molecular Multiple Access) protocol that enables a molecular network with multiple transmitters.

Most existing research is very theoretical and doesn’t work because the theories haven’t considered biology. For example, every time the heart pumps there’s a jitter and the body changes its internal communication channel. Most existing theory assumes that the channel that you send the molecules over is very stable and doesn’t change. It actually changes very fast.

Haitham Al Hassanieh, Assistant Professor and Head, Laboratory of Sensing and Networking Systems, School of Computer and Communication Sciences, EPFL

In biomolecular communication, the team at MoMA introduced packet detection, channel estimation, and encoding/decoding schemes that capitalize on the distinctive properties of molecular networks to tackle existing challenges.

The team tested the protocol on a synthetic experimental testbed simulating blood vessels with tubes and pumps, showcasing its scalability with up to four transmitters and its superior performance compared to state-of-the-art technology.

The researchers acknowledge that their current synthetic testbed might not encompass all the challenges linked to designing protocols for molecular networks. They highlight the necessity for in-vivo testing of micro-implants and micro-fluids in wet labs to achieve practical and deployable molecular networks.

Despite this, they assert that they have initiated the first steps toward this vision and believe their insights into designing molecular networks will remain applicable, as the underlying diffusion and fluid dynamics models in their testbed are fundamental to molecular communication.

Al Hassanieh concludes, “I am very excited about this area because it’s a new form of communication. We are a systems group, we like building things and getting them working. It’s taken time to develop the expertise we have in biomolecular communication but now we are at the stage where we are finding collaborators and can get things moving. People think this is science fiction but it’s fast moving to science fact.”

Journal Reference:

Wang, J., et al. (2023). Towards Practical and Scalable Molecular Networks. ACM Digital Library. doi/abs/10.1145/3603269.3604881.


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