Today, measuring a patient's heart and breathing rates typically requires applying some sort of sensors directly to the skin, but new technology invented at MIT uses an ingestible sensor to monitor heart beats and respiration from inside the gastrointestinal tract.
We've seen ingestible "camera pills" that could transmit HD video from inside the body, including one already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but this new sensor works by calculating heart and breathing rates simply from listening to heartbeats and the lungs doing their job.
"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," says MIT's Giovanni Traverso, one of the lead authors of a paper detailing a proof of concept of the device.
Essentially, the device is an extremely tiny microphone in a silicone capsule that a patient can easily swallow, according to the researchers.
"Using the same sensor, we can collect both your heart sounds and your lung sounds," says MIT's Albert Swiston, a member of the team. "That's one of the advantages of our approach – we can use one sensor to get two pieces of information."
The silicone "pill" also contains electronics to process the audio gathered, isolating the distinct sound waves of the heart and breathing, both from each other and from other background noises made by the body. It also sends wireless radio signals to an external receiver that must be within about 3 meters (10 ft) of the patient.
Naturally, the device would probably only stay in a patient's system for a day or two before another one must be swallowed to continue monitoring.
The researchers hope the sensor could improve the ways trauma and patients with chronic illness are assessed and also be used to monitor soldiers in the field or improve athletic training. In the future they plan to design similar sensors that diagnose heart conditions, and perhaps in the future, create a device that not only identifies, but can also treat problems.
"We hope that one day we're able to detect certain molecules or a pathogen and then deliver an antibiotic, for example," Traverso says. "This development provides the foundation for that kind of system down the line."
The video below overviews the research. A paper detailing the advance has been published in the journal PLOS One.