Researchers at Rice University have come up with a secure way to dramatically cut the risk that an implanted medical device (IMD) could be altered remotely without authorization.

Their technology would use the patient’s own heartbeat as a kind of password that could only be accessed through touch.

The system would require software in the IMD to talk to the “touch” device, called the programmer. When a medical technician touches the patient, the programmer would pick up an electrocardiogram (EKG) signature from the beating heart. The internal and external devices would compare minute details of the EKG and execute a “handshake.” If signals gathered by both at the same instant match, they become the password that grants the external device access.

The system could potentially be used with the millions of IMDs already in use

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