Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have built a flexible sensor that can be rolled up and swallowed. Upon ingestion, the sensor adheres to the stomach wall or intestinal lining, where it can measure the rhythmic contractions of the digestive tract.
Such sensors could help doctors to diagnose gastrointestinal disorders that slow down the passage of food through the digestive tract. They could also be used to detect food pressing on the stomach, helping doctors to monitor food intake by patients being treated for obesity.
The flexible devices are based on piezoelectric materials, which generate a current and voltage when they are mechanically deformed. They also incorporate polymers with elasticity similar to that of human skin, so that they can conform to the skin and stretch when the skin stretches.
In a study appearing in the Oct. 10 issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering, the researchers demonstrated that the sensor remains active in the stomachs of pigs for up to two days. The flexibility of the device could offer improved safety over more rigid ingestible devices, the researchers say.
“Having flexibility has the potential to impart significantly improved safety, simply because it makes it easier to transit through the GI tract,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and one of the senior authors of the paper.
Canan Dagdeviren, an assistant professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the director of the Conformable Decoders research group, is the paper’s lead author and one of the corresponding authors. Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor and a member of the Koch Institute, is also an author of the paper.