Researchers at MIT, Draper, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed an ingestible 3D printed capsule that can doctors can control using Bluetooth wireless technology. In effect, the capsule could deliver drugs and sense environmental conditions while residing in a patient’s stomach for about a month. Even more fascinating is the fact that users can apparently control the 3D printed capsule with their smartphones.
This incredible breakthrough could provide care for patients with precise drug dosages without hassle. Similarly, they could constantly keep track of infections, allergic reactions and other ailments and respond to them. Potentially, the devices could also communicate with other wearable and implantable medical devices. In effect, doctors could treat and diagnose their patients all with one non-intrusive capsule.
“Our system could provide closed-loop monitoring and treatment, whereby a signal can help guide the delivery of a drug or tuning the dose of a drug,” says Giovanni Traverso, a visiting scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The researchers have actually been developing the current version for years now. Originally in 2016, they designed a star-shaped capsule with six arms that fold up and fit into a smooth capsule. After ingestion, the capsule breaks down and the arms expand. The shape of the arms lodges it in the stomach and prevents it from passing through. This new device is similar to the original design, however, it unfolds into a Y-shape. In about a month, the 3D printed capsule dissolves into smaller pieces and passes through the digestive tract.
Wireless, Ingestible Diagnosis & Patient Care
One arm contains four small compartments where the capsule can store drugs. The researchers made it out of a polymer that doles out the substances over the course of several days. At this point, researchers believe they could program the compartments to open on bluetooth command. The device can also carry a range of sensors so it can pick up on the bodies vital signs and reactions. Previously, the researchers have already shown that they can transmit this data, and this new study has proven that the capsule could transmit patient data at arm’s length to a smartphone device.
“The limited connection range is a desirable security enhancement,” Yong Lin Kong, lead author of the study, says. “The self-isolation of wireless signal strength within the user’s physical space could shield the device from unwanted connections, providing a physical isolation for additional security and privacy protection.”
The researchers 3D printed the capsule using alternating layers of stiff and flexible polymers. These polymers gave the capsule the ability withstand the acidic environment within the stomach. There are still improvements that the researchers wish to make. For example, the current version is powered by a single silver oxide battery. The researchers are looking into how they can improve this, possibly powering via an external antenna or the stomach’s own acids.
While it’s still far from reaching the market, it has gained some wealthy backers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the research, along with the National Institutes of Health through Draper. This finding could have massive implications for how we detect and treat physical ailments. We can’t wait to see when it makes it way to the people who most need it.
Featured image courtesy of the researchers, retrieved via MIT website.