Researchers from MIT have developed an ingestible capsule that can monitor vital signs from within a patient’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The device has the potential to detect signs of respiratory depression during an opioid overdose. Giovanni Traverso, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, stated that the device will be particularly useful for sleep studies.
Traditionally, sleep studies require patients to be connected to multiple sensors and devices. These sensors are attached to the patient’s scalp, temples, chest, and lungs with wires. Additionally, patients may wear a nasal cannula, chest belt, and pulse oximeter, which connect to a portable monitor. Traverso explained that sleeping with all this equipment can be challenging.
The novel device, developed in collaboration with start-up Celero Systems, is the first ingestible sensor technology to be tested in humans. The capsule contains two small batteries and a wireless antenna to transmit data. During a trial, the capsule traveled through the GI tract, collecting signals from the device in the stomach. The participants stayed overnight at a sleep lab while the device recorded their respiration, heart rate, temperature, and gastric motility. The sensor successfully detected sleep apnea in one of the patients. The findings suggest that the ingestible sensor can measure health metrics comparable to medical-grade diagnostic equipment at sleep centers. This technology eliminates the need for patients to stay at a sleep lab and be hooked up to multiple sensors.
According to MIT, no adverse effects were reported due to capsule ingestion. However, the short internal shelf life of the capsule limits its effectiveness as a monitoring device. Traverso aims to extend the capsule’s duration in the stomach to a week.
Dr. Ali Rezai, the executive chair of the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, believes that this device has the potential to create a new pathway for identifying overdoses based on a patient’s vital signs. In the future, the device could even administer overdose reversal agents internally if it detects a decrease or cessation in a person’s breathing rate. More data from the studies will be released in the coming months.