MIT Develops A Wearable Device You Can Swallow

Wearables are about to take on new meaning, with an ingestible sensor that can measure vital signs from within the gastrointestinal tract.

Developed out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the sensor calculates heart and breathing rates from the sound waves produced by the beating of the heart and the inhalation of exhalation of the lungs.

The findings were published in the Nov. 18 issue of PLOS One.

“Through characterization of the acoustic wave, recorded from different parts of the GI tract, we found that we could measure both heart rate and respiratory rate with good accuracy,” said Giovanni Traverso, lead author of the paper, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a release.

While vital signs such as heart rate and respiratory rate can currently be measured using wearable devices, researchers said they can be uncomfortable to wear.

The idea for an ingestible sensor came from other ingestible devices that can measure things like body temperature. Researchers wanted to build on that technology, creating a device to measure heartbeat, breathing and temperature, all from inside the body.

To create the device, researchers built off the idea of listening to the body, like doctors do with stethoscopes.

In essence, the device is, “an extremely tiny stethoscope that you can swallow,” said Albert Swiston, a technical staff member at Lincoln Laboratory, in a release. “Using the same sensor, we can collect both your heart sounds and your lung sounds. That’s one of the advantages of our approach — we can use one sensor to get two pieces of information.”

Researchers did work to separate that noise from background noise of the digestive tract, as well as translate the acoustic data to distinguish which was heart and which was breathing rate.

The sensor, the size of a multivitamin pill, includes the microphone and electronics that process the sound and send signals to an external receiver.

The device would likely remain in the digestive tract for only a day or two, with patients swallowing new capsules as needed.

Researchers tested the device in pigs, and found it successfully picked up heart and respiratory rates, despite how much food was being digested.

As envisioned, the device could be used to assess trauma patients, monitor soldiers in the field for medical problems, perform long-term evaluation of patients with chronic illness, or improve training for athletes.

Researchers hope in the future to design sensors to diagnose heart conditions like abnormal heart rhythms or breathing problems like asthma. Currently, patients have to wear a harness monitor for up to a week for such tests, but patients often have trouble wearing the device for 24 hours a day.

Eventually, the device could even be used to deliver treatments.

“We hope that one day we’re able to detect certain molecules or a pathogen and then deliver an antibiotic, for example,” Traverso said. “This development provides the foundation for that kind of system down the line.”

Source: Boston Business Journal, Jessica Bartlett
Photo: This ingestible electronic device invented at MIT can measure heart rate and respiratory rate from inside the gastrointestinal tract. (Albert Swiston, MIT Lincoln Laboratory)