'Ingestibles' Are Medical Devices You Can Swallow

An MIT team has created "ingestibles", medical devices with sensors for patients to swallow.


(MIT ingestible medical device)

Swiston's tiny package monitors three at once. It includes a microphone, a thermometer and a battery with a long enough life to pass from mouth to rectum of whatever large mammal it's traveling through.

As it moves, tugged by the same forces that take food through the digestive system, one component gathers temperature, while a miniature microphone acts as a stethoscope, transmitting a recording of the heart and lungs (which, Swiston says, sounds something like "lub dub lub dub lub dub wooooohooo") to a wireless device that translates it into heart rate and respiratory rate.

Swiston, a biomaterials scientist, and his colleagues work at the federally funded Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group focuses on developing technology that will help monitor soldiers in extreme climates like Iraq and Afghanistan, where heat-induced health problems can cause liver damage, kidney failure and death.

"Trauma patients are a really clear winner here, because we can do vital sign monitoring without touching the skin," says Swiston. "You can't put an [electrocardiogram] on a burn victim if they don't have any skin to apply it to. You need that information but you can't touch them." But swallowing a pill-size device would be no problem.

Science fiction fans may regard this ingestible device as being similar to the Proteus, the miniaturized ship from the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage. I was thinking in particular of the ship at one of the intermediate phases of miniaturization. However, I could only find a picture of the fully reduced Proteus (below).


(Proteus from Fantastic Voyage)

Thanks to readers, here's an early "science-fictional" view of this idea. In Test Pilot, an episode of The Jetson's first broadcast on December 30, 1962, George Jetson goes in for a physical. The doctor uses a special capsule called a "Peek-a-Boo Prober".


(Peek-a-Boo Prober from Jetson's Test Pilot episode)

Here's a close-up:


(Close-up of the Peek-a-Boo Prober from Jetson's Test Pilot episode)

The doctor uses a special Peek-a-Boo Prober launcher to start it on its journey through the patient. Once inside the doctor uses a voice-control interface to instruct the Prober. Take a look at an internal video provided by the Prober to the doctor.


(Peek-a-Boo Prober in stomach episode)

Via Physiologic Status Monitoring via the Gastrointestinal Tract and NPR.

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