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Bluetooth Data Added to Ingestible Capsules

Wireless ingestible sensor

Wireless ingestible sensor system after deployed (Mass. Institute of Technology)

14 Dec. 2018. Engineers created a sensor device, which in tests with pigs can be packed into a capsule, swallowed, and communicate wirelessly for weeks with Bluetooth protocols. A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and affiliated institutions report their findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Advanced Materials Technologies (paid subscription required).

Researchers from the MIT lab of biotechnology and materials science professor Robert Langer and gastroenterologist Giovanni Traverso at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are seeking better diagnostic tools and techniques for closer monitoring of patients. These technologies are available today, but often require invasive techniques, such as surgery, to implant and remove, as well as specialized equipment to extract and process the data they collect.

Traverso and Langer partnered for several years on development of ingestible capsules that reside in the body for extended periods of time, both for diagnostics and to deliver drugs. Their earlier work shows ingestible capsules can monitor a body’s vital signs and be powered with stomach acids, largely removing the need for an added or external power source. In later work, they demonstrate delivery of drugs over 2 weeks with a single capsule, including antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infections that require more complex delivery schedules.

In their new study, Traverso and Langer, with colleagues from their respective research groups and the Draper Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, developed a tested what they call a gastric resident electronic, or GRE, system. The GRE system, much like the long-term drug delivery capsules for HIV drugs, is made of biodegradable polymers, which can be loaded with the drugs to be delivered and folded into an ingestible capsule.

In this case, the researchers tested a new capability, wireless communications with the capsule using the commercial and widely available Bluetooth protocol that sends and receives data over short distances. The team designed and 3-D printed a Y-shaped ingestible GRE device with arms containing a body temperature sensor and a Bluetooth transmitter. The 3-D printing enabled the researchers to alternate layers of stiff and flexible polymers, allowing the device to withstand the rigors of  stomach acids. Like their earlier long-term drug delivery capsules, this device folds down into an ingestible capsule.

In tests with pigs that have digestive systems similar to humans, the researchers found their device could be delivered into the stomach, with the sensor-transmitter device deployed as designed. The findings show the device can transmit temperature data to smartphone a few feet away. The results also show the device transmits data for about 15 days, and remains in the stomach for up to 36 days, before it breaks up and passes safely through the digestive tract.

The researchers believe the ingestible communicating device and be designed for complex treatment situations where the patient requires close monitoring and quick responses by clinicians. “Our system,” says Traverso in an MIT statement, “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.” Traverso will join MIT’s mechanical engineering faculty next year.

Langer and Traverso are co-founders and serve on the board of the company Lyndra Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts that licenses their technology for long-term drug delivery systems. As reported earlier this week in Science & Enterprise, the 3 year-old enterprise received notice that a patent based on this technology will be issued soon by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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