Some gastrointestinal conditions may be better treated if the doctors knew what really goes on inside the patient’s stomach. However, placing sensors inside the stomach to monitor it isn’t practical because the stomach is full of acid and it eventually discharges anything that drops into it. A team of researchers at MIT have now designed a novel ingestible, Jello-O-Like pill that, upon reaching the stomach, quickly balloons to the size of a ping-pong ball that is soft and squishy and is big enough to stay in the stomach for an extended period of time.
The embedded sensors in the pill continuously tracks the stomach’s temperature for up to 30 days. If the pill needs to be removed from the stomach, the patient can drink a solution of calcium that makes the pill to quickly deflate to its original size and exit safely out of the body, reports MIT News.
The new devices are made of hydrogels, a gelatin-like substance, and sodium polyacrylate, a highly absorbent material. The design makes the pill softer, more biocompatible, and longer-lasting than current ingestible sensors, which either can only remain in the stomach for a few days, or are made from hard plastics or metals.
“The dream is to have a Jell-O-like smart pill, that once swallowed stays in the stomach and monitors the patient’s health for a long time such as a month,” says Xuanhe Zhao, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.
The researchers successfully integrated thermometers into the pills and tested in laboratory pigs. The smart pills were able to track the temperature inside the pig stomachs for a month at a time, and they exited with few problems.
Researchers envision someday the pill may safely deliver various sensors to the stomach to monitor, for example, pH levels, or signs of certain bacteria or viruses. Tiny cameras may also be embedded into the pills to image the progress of tumors or ulcers, over the course of several weeks. Zhao says the pill might also be used as a safer, more comfortable alternative to the gastric balloon diet, a form of diet control in which a balloon is threaded through a patient’s esophagus and into the stomach, using an endoscope.
“With our design, you wouldn’t need to go through a painful process to implant a rigid balloon,” Zhao says. “Maybe you can take a few of these pills instead, to help fill out your stomach, and lose weight. We see many possibilities for this hydrogel device.”