2013 Loughborough Antennas & Propagation Conference 11-12 November 2013, Loughborough, UK

A Passive RFID Implant for Soft Tissue Trauma
J. M. Rigelsford and C. J. Davenport
Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering,
University of Sheffield
Mappin Street, Sheffield, S1 3JD, UK

Abstract— This paper presents the design of a passive RFID
TABLE 1: Metal poisoning of organs.
tag which can be used to monitor patients who have suffered
from soft tissue trauma. Such traumas can occur due to road
traffic accidents, extensive surgery due to cancer treatment, or


Ca c




shrapnel wounds caused by combat or terrorist attacks. The






subcutaneous RFID implant passively monitors the healing rate
of the patient and can be used for the early detection of infection. Nervous System X X
Unlike conventional designs, as the device is biodegradable, there
Kidneys X X X X X X X
is no need for further post-operative surgery to remove it. The
effect of micro-fractures on ring and clover shaped RFID tags are Gastrointestinal X X X X
summarized by experimental results. Blood X X
Heart X X X X
Keywords— RFID, implant, biodegradabale, shrapnel.
Liver X X X X
Reproductive X X
Damage to soft tissue deep within the human body can In all such cases it can be very difficult to monitor the
occur for a number of reasons, from road traffic accidents, healing process within the body after surgery has occurred.
extensive surgery for cancer treatment (e.g. colorectal cancer), Soft tissue damage is not easily monitored using X-Rays, and
or shrapnel wounds caused by military combat operations or access to MRI scanners is limited or non-existent in many
terrorist attacks. For example, 90% of combat injuries parts of the world. For abnormal patient recovery, diagnosis of
occurring in US infantry combat have been caused by complications may only be achieved through further
penetrating projectiles, and most of these (70-80%) are caused exploratory surgery after the patient has become acutely
by fragments from explosive munitions such as shells, symptomatic. Additional surgery is obviously unpleasant for
grenades and improvised explosive devices, rather than the patient, has an additional risk of infection, and is costly in
bullets. A study of 7989 patients collected from 1967 through terms of time and resources. To mitigate against infection,
1969 in Vietnam and comprising the Wound Data and strong or extensive doses of antibiotics can be prescribed, but
Munitions Effectiveness Team (WDMET) database shows that it has been widely publicized that the range of currently
the mechanism of wound is predominantly due to fragments available effective antibiotics is reducing due to resistant
(62%) and the site of primary injury are 47% soft tissue, 8% strains of bacterium. The problem with all invasive surgery is
abdomen and 4% chest. These types of wounds are less likely the route for potential infection [3, 4].
to be fatal, with less than 1% of primary soft tissue damage Therefore this paper presents initial results in developing a
sites resulting in death, while the abdomen and chest account bio-degradable radio frequency (RF) micro-implant for
for 9% and 24% respectively, of fatal injuries [1]. More monitoring soft tissue as it heals. It is envisaged that this
recently, the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon resulted in passive device would be subcutaneously implanted near the
3 fatalities and 264 wounded mainly by shrapnel. Some of the trauma site during the final stages of surgery. As the soft
injuries were caused by up to 40 ball bearings or nails piercing tissue around the trauma site repairs itself, the implanted
the body. Due to the positioning of the bombs, wounds were device will bio-degrade and be safely absorbed into the body.
more probable to the legs and feet [2]. These examples This degradation of the device will result in a change to its RF
highlight the importance and validity of post soft tissue trauma signature which can be monitored from outside the patient.
care. Suitable designs will result in a methodology whereby the rate
Beyond the damage caused by shrapnel to tissue and of tissue repair can be remotely assessed. This assessment can
organs within the body, infection is a key risk factor for lead to early diagnosis of infection or post-operative
patients. A tertiary side effect is the risk of metal poisoning complications, reduce the over reliance on excessive
from the shrapnel itself. Table 1 shows metals commonly prescription of antibiotics, and help mitigate unnecessary
found in shrapnel and the organs at risk of damage.

978-1-4799-0091-6/13/$31.00 ©2013 IEEE

additional surgery, which in itself can lead to further risk of
infection and complications.

II. THEORY & DESIGN a) b) c)
Considerable work has been published on biomedical
electronics, including (although not exhaustively) designing
implantable medical electronics [5, 6], methods for inductively
powering them [7-9] and methods for transmitting data from
an implanted device to an extracorporeal monitor [10, 11], and
implantable antennas [12-16]. A fundamental shortcoming of d) e) f)
almost all these proposed designs is that the devices would
have to be surgically removed at the end of their operational
Fig. 2. Conductive clover shape with increasing amounts of material removed.
life. All surgery comes with some level of risk and provides a
pathway for infection [4, 17].
TABLE 2: Length of the micro-fractures and separations. *indicates
It is therefore an aim of this work to consider designs where material is removed
which are suitable for use in bio-degradable implants. The Parameter Dimension (mm)
proposed solution to this problem is to develop an RFID tag
[18] which utilizes microstructures [19] to change the t1 * 0.7
performance of the tag [20]. Two designs are presented and t2 * 1.4
considered in this work: a simple conducting ring, and a clover
shape, similar to the one presented in [20]. t3 * 2.1
Consider a simple conducting ring as illustrated in Fig. 1a t4 * 5
illuminated by a broadband electromagnetic wave. If a s1 0.7
micro-fracture is introduced, and material is removed from the
ring (see Fig. 1b-d, parameters t1, t2 and t3) then the
electromagnetic performance of the ring will change. If the
ring becomes discontinuous or separated (see Fig. 1e, III. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
parameter s1) without loss of further conducting material, then In order to validate the ring and clover designs presented
it can be assumed that is electromagnetic performance will in the previous section, two non-biodegradable RFID implants
alter again. were manufactured and tested experimentally. The ring and
clover designs are shown in their initial states prior to
degradation, in Fig. 3. The ring was designed to resonate at
6 GHz, and the clover at 5 GHz. Prototypes for both the ring
and clover shaped rings described in Section II were
manufactured from 26 gauge (0.4 mm) zinc plated copper and
a) b) c) are pictured in Figs. 1 and 2. Both were made electrically
continuous using lead-free solder and were degraded by
carefully cutting and removing small amounts of material
from around the soldered joint.

d) e)

Fig. 1. Conductive ring with increasing amounts of material removed, and
with a split.

Similarly, a clover shape with different sized micro-
fractures is presented in Fig. 2. Dimensions of the micro-
a) b)
fractures used in both designs are given in Table 2.
Fig. 3. Prototypes of a) the ring and b) the clover shaped non-biodegradable
RFID implants.

The two designs were tested by measuring the changes in
forward transmission (S21) of a free space system, in a similar
way as to that described in [20] and as shown in Fig. 4. The
system comprises of two Rohde & Schwarz HF906 double-
ridged waveguide horn antennas spaced 600 mm apart.
Measurement samples are placed on a large polystyrene block
(600 mm x 600 mm) which is 200 mm thick and has RF

transmission properties close to air (i.e. εr≈1.02). The forward the measured result occurs, especially at the higher
transmission measurement (S21) was performed using a two frequencies. Results of more severe shape degradation of the
port Agilent 8720D vector network analyser, for a frequency clover shaped RFID tag are shown in Fig. 7.
range of 1 – 18 GHz with 1601 discrete sample points
(∆ =10.625 MHz). The system was calibrated using the 0.3

measured signal through just the polystyrene block, and a time Clover
gate with a span of 7 ns was used to eliminate any multipath 0.2 0.7mm

Forward Transmission (dB)
and scattered signals. 1.4mm

0.1 2.1mm




1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Frequency (GHz)
Fig. 6. A comparison of measured results for the clover shaped RFID tag.

Fig. 4. Experimental forward transmission measurement system used for
characterising the RFID tags. 0.2
Forward Transmission (dB)

full gap
double full gap
A comparison of the five measured results for the ring shaped 0.1

RFID implant is presented in Fig. 5. The degradation of the
ring corresponds to those described in the previous section and 0.0
illustrated in Fig. 1. It can be clearly seen that as the RFID tag
is degraded, there is a discernible difference in the measured

Forward Transmission (dB)

0.2 1.4mm 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
0.1 Frequency (GHz)
rear cut
Fig. 7. A comparison of measured results for the clover shaped RFID tag with
severe shape degradation.

This paper has presented the concept of a passive RFID tag
which can be used to monitor patients who have suffered from
-0.4 soft tissue trauma. The subcutaneous RFID implant could be
used to passively monitor the healing rate of the patient and
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 can be used for the early detection of infection.
Frequency (GHz) Experimental results have been presented for a
Fig. 5. A comparison of measured results for the ring shaped RFID tag. non-biodegradable ring and clover shaped RFID tag. The
results demonstrate that degradation of the shapes can be
remotely monitored by tracking changes over a broad
A summary of measured results for the simple degradation of frequency range. Future work will concentrate on developing
the clover shaped RFID tag is presented in Fig. 6. The bio-degradable versions of the tag and optimizing their
degradation of the clover shape corresponds to those described degradation signatures. A toxicology study of the materials
in the previous section and illustrated in Fig. 2. It can be used for the implantable RFID tags is also envisaged.
clearly seen that as the RFID tag is degraded, a visible shift in

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