New Ingestible Device Could Eliminate Need for Invasive Procedures


A team of researchers from New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology have developed a swallowable pill-shaped electromagnetic device that could give doctors a novel diagnostic window into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

In a study published in Nature Electronics, lead researcher Khalil Ramadi, assistant professor of Bioengineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, wrote that the Bluetooth-enabled device uses similar technology to MRI machines and delivers a continual stream of data to a smartphone as it passes through the subject.

It could be a breakthrough with the potential to help roughly one-third of the global population with irritable bowel syndrome and other functional GI disorders. The ingestible, radiation-free microdevice could allow patients to forgo uncomfortable, time-consuming diagnostic procedures like CT scans, x-rays, and intrusive endoscopic tubes. Patients must keep electromagnetic coils close to them while the device makes its way through their bodies. The coils could be worn in a backpack or jacket, allowing them to go about their everyday lives during the process.

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"We anticipate that our [device] may keep people out of hospitals and reduce burdens on the healthcare system while delivering information vital to diagnosing motility disorders as accurately as possible," said Ramadi in a statement, who also heads the Laboratory for Advanced Neuroengineering and Translational Medicine at NYU Abu Dhabi.

He explained that ingestible trackers currently on the market can capture images or measure the temperature inside the body but can’t pinpoint their location.

“Once our highly sensitive device is swallowed, it also shows us exactly where it is at any time,” he said. “That gives us a timeline of the tract's movement and exposes the precise place of the malfunction, information critical to identifying the underlying disease."

The researchers spent three years developing the device, which required creating a system of electromagnets that could function with high resolution throughout the one-to-two-foot range of the stomach and not degrade in the GI tract. The new study, however, was only successful on pigs, and human trials are still needed to determine the clinical efficacy of the device.

"Motility disorders and diseases involve the GI tract moving at abnormal speeds," Ramadi said, “including by working too quickly or slowly in specific places, but those things can be frustratingly difficult to measure.”