August 24, 2006 Cambridge Consultants today revealed an innovative medical device concept for managing diabetes that uses NFC, the close-proximity wireless communications standard, to integrate glucometers and insulin pumps. The prototype device, developed in conjunction with Philips, demonstrates how NFC can be exploited to simplify treatment for millions of diabetics worldwide, and could be the first of a new generation of medical devices that use close-proximity wireless communications. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diabetes is officially classified as a worldwide epidemic with the number of people with the disease to double to 366m by 2030. To tackle this growing global problem, the Cambridge Consultants concept device uses the unique characteristics of NFC to streamline treatment, by wirelessly linking a glucometer with an insulin pump. The glucometer records the blood sugar reading and then recommends a bolus dose of insulin. If the patient accepts the dose, then they simply swipe the glucometer against the insulin pump, which could be located beneath clothing, and the drug is delivered. This confirmation feature, which Cambridge Consultants dubs 'patient-in-the-loop dosing', enhances confidence and security, and allows the user to modify dosage calculations for lifestyle reasons.
Cambridge Consultants believes that NFC adds genuine user-friendly characteristics that would inspire confidence in medical applications like this. These include a more ergonomic process with a simple user interaction, improved accuracy of dosing, data logging for compliance monitoring, and the ability to make devices much more discreet - with a major reduction in the need to handle or disturb the device. Such features benefit patients and health professionals alike, enhancing the reliability and integrity of treatment.
"The market for NFC-enabled medical products represents a significant opportunity," according to Kirsten West, principal analyst with WTRS. "Given that soon more than 30% of the world’s population will be over the age of 65, the market for NFC in medical products will be driven by the development of the NFC-enabled mobile phone market, which we forecast to reach 57 million units annually by 2009 with an 87% CAGR over the five year period from 2006 through 2011."
Richard Traherne, head of wireless communication from Cambridge Consultants, said: "NFC has the potential to be a catalyst in developing the efficiency and portability of medical devices for a number of applications. It both simplifies treatment and aids patient compliance, which makes it a win-win solution for easing the treatment of many problematic medical conditions. Initially, we're developing a device that demonstrates NFC as a way of improving the management of diabetes, but we see strong potential for the technology in a wide array of medical applications including pain relief, asthma and respiratory care, gastric electrical stimulation therapy, and treatments for congestive heart failure or urinary urge incontinence."
Cambridge Consultants selected Philips’ NFC technology as an ideal platform for improving the efficiency and security of human interaction with frequently-used medical equipment. These two important attributes stem from the intrinsic nature of NFC, which has a working range of just 10 cm, differentiating it from most other wireless technologies which typically operate over distances measured in metres. Unlike Bluetooth for example, a user must intentionally bring NFC devices into close proximity to make a connection, transfer information and then trigger the process.
A further advantage for medical device OEMs is the low cost of adding NFC wireless technology to products. One half of the wireless system can be designed to operate passively, drawing its power 'over the air' from the active terminal and avoiding bulky and costly batteries - and battery charging. This means that equipment may be wireless-enabled using an extremely low bill of materials, and with little or no impact on size.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
Jointly developed by Philips and Sony, NFC is a combination of contactless identification and interconnection technologies that enables secure short-range communication between electronic devices, such as mobile phones, PDA’s, computers and payments terminals via a fast and easy wireless connection. NFC offers a simple, touch-based solution that allows consumers to exchange information and to access content and services in an intuitive way.
NFC operates in the 13.56 MHz frequency range, over a distance of typically a few centimeters and combines the functions of a contactless reader, a contactless card and peer-to-peer functionality on a single chip. The underlying layers of NFC technology are ISO, ECMA, and ETSI standards. It is an open interface platform that allows fast and automatic set-up of wireless networks, which also works as a virtual connector for existing cellular, Bluetooth and wireless 802.11 devices. NFC is compatible with Sony's FeliCa™ card and the broadly established contactless smart card infrastructure based on ISO 14443 A, which is used in Philips' MIFARE® technology.
To drive development and adoption of NFC, Philips, Sony and Nokia established the NFC Forum, a non-profit industry association which promotes implementation and standardization of NFC technology to ensure interoperability between devices and services. The NFC Forum has currently more than 80 members around the globe including HP, MasterCard International, Matsushita Electronic Industrial Co. Ltd., Microsoft, Motorola, NEC, Renesas Technology, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Visa International.
Diabetes: an epidemic
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a diabetes epidemic is underway. An estimated 30 million people worldwide had diabetes in 1985. By 1995, this number had shot up to 135 m. The latest WHO estimate (for the number of people with diabetes, worldwide, in 2000) is 177 m. This will increase to at least 300 m by 2025. The number of deaths attributed to diabetes was previously estimated at just over 800,000.
However, it has long been known that the number of deaths related to diabetes is considerably underestimated. A more plausible figure is likely to be around 4 m deaths per year related to the presence of the disorder. This is about 9% of the global total. Many of these diabetes related deaths are from cardiovascular complications. Most of them are premature deaths when the people concerned are economically contributing to society. This situation is increasingly outstretching the healthcare resources devoted to diabetes. Immediate action is needed to stem the tide of diabetes and to introduce cost-effective treatment strategies to reverse this trend.