MIT Tests New Ingestible Vital Signs Sensor

An ingestible capsule that can track vital signs, including heart rate and breathing patterns, from inside a patient's GI system was created by MIT researchers. The innovative gadget, according to the experts, may also identify respiratory depression symptoms that accompany an opioid overdose. The gadget will be particularly helpful for sleep studies, according to Giovanni Traverso, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT who has been working on creating a variety of ingestible sensors.

Patients in sleep studies typically need to be connected to multiple sensors and devices. Sensors can be wired to a patient's scalp, temples, chest, and lungs in lab settings or at-home research investigations. A patient may also be asked to wear a chest belt, nasal cannula, and pulse oximeter that connects to a portable monitor. It's difficult to try to sleep with all this equipment.

This trial is the first human testing of ingestible sensor technology, using a capsule developed by the start-up Celero Systems, headed by researchers from MIT and Harvard. Experts from West Virginia University and other hospital institutions led the research, in addition to the start-up and MIT.

The capsule has a wireless antenna for data transmission and two tiny batteries. The ingestible sensor, which is the size of a vitamin capsule, traveled through the gastrointestinal tract, and collected signals from the device while it was in the stomach. The apparatus tracked the subjects' heart rate, temperature, breathing, and stomach motility while they spent the night in a sleep lab. During the trial, sleep apnea was also identified by the sensor in one patient. According to the results, the ingestible at the sleep center could measure health indicators comparable to those obtained with traditional medical diagnostic tools.

Crucially, MIT reports that no negative effects from using capsules have been documented. The capsule usually passes in a day or so, but its limited internal shelf life may also make it less useful as a monitoring tool. Traverso said that one day, he hopes to see Celetro—a company he co-founded—have a feature that lets the capsule remain in a patient's stomach for a week.

With the aid of this technology, clinicians may determine whether a patient is overdosing based on their vital signs, according to Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chair of the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute. Researchers also predict that in the future, devices may include pharmaceuticals inside of them. For example, nalmefene, an overdose reversal agent, might be gradually given to a patient if a sensor detects that their respiration has slowed down or halted. In the upcoming months, further study results will be made public.


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