It was just last month that we heard the latest about an experimental multi-dose capsule that stays in the stomach for up to two weeks, gradually releasing medication. The scientists that created it have now taken things further, with a similar capsule that can communicate from within the body using Bluetooth.
Developed by scientists at MIT, along with colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the original device has six drug-loaded polymer arms that are initially folded down within a smooth gelatine shell. Once it reaches the stomach, the gelatine dissolves, allowing the arms to open up into a star shape. This keeps the device from passing out of the stomach. It then gradually releases the medication, until its biodegradable core dissolves – this causes the arms to fall off and leave the stomach, ultimately being excreted.
The new capsule works in a similar way, using two fold-out arms to form into a Y shape. It then stays in the stomach for about a month, continuously releasing medication from four compartments in one of the arms.
The 3D-printed device can also, however, be equipped with sensors capable of monitoring a variety of bodily parameters, plus it has a Bluetooth module. It's currently powered by a small silver oxide battery, although the scientists are looking into powering it using an external antenna, or possibly even stomach acid.
It has already been tested on pigs, using a sensor to record their internal body temperature, and then transmitting that data to a smartphone held within arm's length of their bodies. A longer wireless range wouldn't really be desirable, as that would make it easier for unwanted third parties to communicate with the device.
Down the road, it is hoped that the capsule may also be able to detect the onset of problems and then respond accordingly, such as releasing antibiotics upon detecting infections. It could additionally be possible for doctors to manually activate the device, using a smartphone's Bluetooth signal to have it release medication on demand.
The study is being led by MIT's Prof. Robert Langer, along with Brigham and Women's Dr. Giovanni Traverso, and also involves scientists from California's Draper University. A paper on the research was published this week in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.
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