‘Wireless medical sensors can improve patient comfort’

30 May 2023

Image: Dinesh R Gawade

Tyndall PhD researcher Dinesh R Gawade is developing wireless, battery-less sensing devices that have many applications including in healthcare and for monitoring museum artefacts.

Dinesh R Gawade credits his academic supervisor Dr John L Buckley with giving him the support, motivation and knowledge to succeed in his work. “His active involvement and drive towards perfection have shaped my research mindset,” Gawade said.

“He always encourages me to look for new research perspectives and contribute to deep-tech innovation and impact through research excellence.”

Gawade is pursuing a PhD with the Radio Frequency (RF) and Antenna Design team, the Wireless Sensor Networks Group and the Microelectronic Circuits Centre Ireland at the Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork. He was recently awarded a Wrixon Research Excellence Bursary for his project work.

He completed a degree in electronics and communications technology in the Department of Technology at Shivaji University, India. He worked in industry for a couple of years as a hardware design engineer before returning to academia to work as a project engineer in the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi.

In 2019, he joined Tyndall as a research assistant where he completed a master’s degree in engineering. He developed a sensor that is now being used in museums across Europe, including to track conditions for Andy Warhol’s 1964 painting Flowers which is housed in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

‘Microenvironment monitoring is crucial for preserving museum artefacts’

Tell us about your current research.

Currently, I am working on my PhD thesis, which is focused on the design and development of wirelessly powered implantable medical devices (WPIMDs).

WPIMDs are highly miniaturised devices that are implanted in the human body to enable continuous monitoring of physiological parameters, such as blood alcohol level, neural modulation and drug delivery without the use of a battery. Instead of a battery, WPIMDs use an external reader to provide radio frequency (RF) power to the implant and enable wireless data transfer from the implant.

During my master’s degree, I successfully developed and demonstrated a smart museum archive box that featured a fully integrated wireless-powered temperature and humidity sensor in close collaboration with ZFB in Germany. The battery-less sensor solution enabled a convenient means of wireless sensing by simply placing a standard smartphone in close proximity to the cardboard archive box.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

WPIMDs eliminate the need for a battery, reducing the risks associated with surgery to replace the battery and improving patient comfort. WPIMDs can provide continuous or duty-cycle-based monitoring of physiological parameters without using a battery, leading to reduced implant size, extending device lifetime and enabling new medical applications.

In the context of museum artefact monitoring, microenvironment monitoring is crucial for preserving museum artefacts stored in archive boxes. However, the microclimatic conditions within the boxes can differ from the external environment due to the intrinsic water content of stored materials, making it difficult to monitor.

Traditional monitoring devices are too large, too expensive or require opening the box for readings, which can introduce contaminants. A new battery-less smart archive box has been developed and demonstrated to enable accurate monitoring without the need for movement or opening of the box and eliminating the need for battery replacements.

This is particularly beneficial for small and middle-sized museums with budget constraints and critical storage climates, allowing conservators to quickly identify and reduce the risk of artefact degradation.

In general, the development of battery-less sensing devices is important from an environmental point of view because it helps reduce electronic waste, which is a significant environmental concern.

Batteries contain toxic chemicals that can leak into the environment when they are not disposed of properly, leading to soil and water pollution. Furthermore, the production and disposal of batteries require a considerable amount of energy, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Battery-less sensing devices, on the other hand, can be powered using energy-harvesting techniques, such as wireless power transfer from the environment. This not only reduces the environmental impact of batteries but also eliminates the need for frequent battery replacements, which can be inconvenient and costly.

In addition, WPIMDs in healthcare is likely to be significant, with the potential to increase patient comfort, enhance disease management, increase device lifetime and reduce healthcare costs.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

Since my earliest memories, even as a young child, I have been captivated by the fields of technology and science. My curiosity was supported and entertained by my parents, brother and teachers.

After joining Tyndall National Institute, I had the opportunity to work on an EU Horizon 2020 funded project called Apache, where I was tasked with developing a battery-less sensing device for museum artefact monitoring under the supervision of Dr John Buckley.

During this project, I gained a deeper understanding of the impact of batteries on the environment and associated issues, such as the cost of battery replacement for various applications.

My research work in the Apache project changed my way of thinking and inspired me to further pursue a career in the field of wireless-power transfer research and wirelessly powered medical device development.

What are some of the biggest challenges or misconceptions you face as a researcher in your field?

There are several challenges and misconceptions associated with the development of WPIMDs. The development of WPIMDs is a complex process that requires attention to a variety of technical and regulatory considerations. Achieving high power transfer efficiency between the external reader and implant is critical. Low efficiency can result in poor device performance, and high external reader power can increase the risk of tissue damage.

Further design of secure wireless communication links can be a challenging consideration in WPIMD development, as these devices must protect patient data and prevent unauthorised access to the implant.

Additionally, developing WPIMDs in cm2 scale size can be challenging since it requires electrically small antenna (ESAs) integration. ESAs suffer from low gain and radiation efficiency, which limits the amount of RF energy available to power the WPIMD.

Do you think public engagement with science has changed in recent years?

The Covid-19 pandemic had a major and noteworthy effect on public involvement in science and led people to become proficient and comfortable with online learning and remote work.

During this time, Dr Sanjeev Kumar and I created videos to showcase the concept of wireless power transfer to undergraduate students and the public. Now all of these recorded videos can accommodate those who are unable to attend in-person sessions for various reasons, making our scientific research more accessible to everyone.

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