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Unfolding Bluetooth capsule could release medicine while in stomach for weeks

Professional Engineering

MIT researchers have designed an ingestible sensor that can lodge in the stomach for a few weeks and communicate wirelessly with an external device (Credit: MIT researchers)
MIT researchers have designed an ingestible sensor that can lodge in the stomach for a few weeks and communicate wirelessly with an external device (Credit: MIT researchers)

A 3D-printed, Bluetooth-enabled capsule that automatically unfolds after being swallowed could monitor seriously ill patients and release medicine when needed, its creators have said.

Researchers at MIT, Draper, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts designed and tested the ingestible capsule, which can be customised for people with various conditions, potentially including HIV or malaria.

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.

The new device works in a similar way, unfolding into a Y-shape after being swallowed. This allows it to remain in the stomach for about a month, before it breaks into smaller pieces and passes through the digestive tract.

One of the arms includes four small compartments that can be loaded with different medicines, potentially packaged in polymers that gradually dissolve and release them over several days. The researchers also hope to open the compartments via Bluetooth.

The device can also carry sensors that monitor the gastric environment and relay information via a wireless signal. Sensors could monitor temperature and relay that information directly to a smartphone within arm's length, for instance.

“We are excited about this demonstration of 3D printing and of how ingestible technologies can help people through novel devices that facilitate mobile health applications,” said senior author Robert Langer, from MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

The device could be most useful for patients at high risk of infection, such as those receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressive medicines. If infection is detected, the capsule could release antibiotics.

The capsules are battery powered, but the team hopes to investigate other options including using stomach acid. They hope the devices will communicate with other wearable and implantable medical devices, pooling information to send to a patient or doctor’s smartphone.

“We can potentially create customised ingestible electronics where the gastric residence period can be tailored based on a specific medical application, which could lead to a personalised diagnostic and treatment that is widely accessible,” said lead author Yong Lin Kong, now assistant professor at the University of Utah.

The team tested the capsules in pigs, and hope human patients can try them within roughly two years.

The research was published in Advanced Materials Technologies.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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