My research group, Conformable Decoders, at the MIT Media Lab is the interpreter for a language without words: a beating heart, neuronal activity in the brain or peristaltic forces in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. They are all saying something important, speaking the unique language of the body. It is a linguistic that is completely different from the English that we speak every day – but it is one I believe we need to start translating genuinely. To this end, we are exploring novel materials, device designs and fabrication strategies to create micro- and nanoscale electromechanical systems with mechanically adaptive features, which allow intimate integration with the objects of interest. These systems enable us to collect and convert essential patterns into useful forms to gain insights into our body, and enhance interactions with nature and each other.
In our report just published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, we describe the development of a biocompatible, flexible, piezoelectric sensor that permits real-time, long-term gastric motility evaluation. With a piezoelectric sensory interface mounted on a flexible substrate, our system yields voltage output due to mechanical deformations within the gastric cavity when conformably attached to the inside walls. It is the first system reported that evaluates ingestion status by monitoring gastric motility with a flexible electronic system. The flexibility of the microfabricated sensor allows it to attach to the interior of the gastric cavity conformably, and facilitates packaging inside a capsule by rolling. Importantly, its flexible nature has the potential to mitigate the risk of gastrointestinal obstruction. Given that the device can be electrically actuated, this system could become a template for subsequent gastrointestinal-tract stimulation devices. Future work will focus on incorporating an electromagnetic field-based wireless system for prolonged powering and communication with the device.