Researchers have designed an ingestible capsule that can be controlled using Bluetooth wireless technology. Their capsule, which can be customized to deliver drugs, sense environmental conditions, or a combination of those functions, can reside in the stomach for at least a month, transmitting information and responding to instructions from a user's smartphone.
Researchers at MIT, Draper, and Brigham and Women's Hospital have designed an ingestible capsule that can be controlled using Bluetooth wireless technology. The capsule, which can be customized to deliver drugs, sense environmental conditions, or both, can reside in the stomach for at least a month, transmitting information and responding to instructions from a user's smartphone.
The capsules, manufactured using 3-D-printing technology, could be deployed to deliver drugs to treat a variety of diseases, particularly in cases where drugs must be taken over a long period of time. They could also be designed to sense infections, allergic reactions, or other events, and then release a drug in response.
These devices could also be used to communicate with other wearable and implantable medical devices, which could pool information to be communicated to the patient's or doctor's smartphone.
In their latest study, the researchers set out to combine many of the features they had previously developed. In 2016, the researchers designed a star-shaped capsule with six arms that fold up before being encased in a smooth capsule. After being swallowed, the capsule dissolves and the arms expand, allowing the device to lodge in the stomach. Similarly, the new device unfolds into a Y-shape after being swallowed. This enables the device to remain the stomach for about a month, before it breaks into smaller pieces and passes through the digestive tract.
One of these arms includes four small compartments that can be loaded with a variety of drugs. These drugs can be packaged within polymers that allow them to be released gradually over several days. The researchers also anticipate that they could design the compartments to be opened remotely through wireless Bluetooth communication.
The device can also carry sensors that monitor the gastric environment and relay information via a wireless signal. In previous work, the researchers designed sensors that can detect vital signs such as heart rate and breathing rate. In this paper, they demonstrated that the capsule could be used to monitor temperature and relay that information directly to a smartphone within arm's length.
To enable the manufacturing of all of these complex elements, the researchers decided to 3-D print the capsules.
This approach allowed them to easily incorporate all of the various components carried by the capsules, and to build the capsule from alternating layers of stiff and flexible polymers, which helps it to withstand the acidic environment of the stomach.
The researchers envision that this type of sensor could be used to diagnose early signs of disease and then respond with the appropriate medication. For example, it could be used to monitor certain people at high risk for infection, such as patients who are receiving chemotherapy or immuno-suppressive drugs. If infection is detected, the capsule could begin releasing antibiotics. Or, the device could be designed to release antihistamines when it detects an allergic reaction.