In the future, your recommended daily allowance might include Wi-Fi and a biodegradable antenna.
Researchers are working on ingestible sensors as an inexpensive and safe way to monitor the health of our innards. The pills could test for bacterial infections, monitor medication levels, and check for diseases, among other things.
At the moment, the main ways for seeing inside the body require expensive imaging, such as MRIs, or a camera pill, which can become lodged in the intestines and require surgical removal.
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But a team lead by Christopher Bettinger, assistant professor of materials science and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is investigating different methods for creating sensors that could be taken like vitamins.
Imagine a little pill with sensor made from minerals essential to your health, such as manganese, magnesium, and copper. They could be encapsulated in a biodegradable hydrogel and once they reach the stomach, could use gastrointestinal fluids as an electrolyte to transport current for power.
"We think we can go to FDA and say, ‘here's a battery compound of things that are already in our bodies, plus water,'" he told IEEE Spectrum. Bettinger recently authored a review article on next-generation ingestible electronics in Trends in Biotechnology.
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In lab tests, he and his team built a battery like this and found that it provided 5 milliwatts of power for up to 20 hours.
Bettinger's group is not the only one working in this area, of course. A company called Proteus Digital Health of Redwood Shores, Calif., has an ingestible sensor that sends data to a patch worn on the skin.
If an electronic pill could lower your medical expenses while boosting eight essential minerals, would you swallow it?
via IEEE Spectrum