Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have successfully developed an ingestible smart pill that could soon be used to detect a number of health problems from inside the gut.
They say the ingestible bacterial-electronic sensor will transform the way doctors diagnose, monitor, and treat gut diseases.
Ingestible Smart Pill
The smart pill or capsule is a small, ingestible, and ultra-low-power sensor that is over an inch long. According to the MIT researchers, the technology is the first of its kind because it uses genetically engineered bacteria as sensors to detect bleeding in the digestive tract.
What's more, the technology can also relay signals or send information to a smartphone to inform and help doctors diagnose a number of health issues, including inflammatory bowel disease, early signs of ulcers, and even colon cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colon cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Early screening and detection can really help so that treatment can reduce complications.
Also, the technology could be used by doctors to monitor parts of the stomach that are very difficult to reach, especially in people who suffer from Crohn's disease. So far, the device has already been tested in pigs. However, the technology still needs to be adjusted before it could be used in humans.
Synthetic Biology And Electronics
According to the MIT engineers, the pills were tested using a harmless strain of E. Coli bacteria. What they did was they tried to modify the cells with DNA from other bacteria to enable them to glow after spotting heme or haem, a molecule in blood that contains iron.
As for the electronics aspect, the device uses a computer chip, a small light detector, a 2.7-volt battery, and transmitter to relay signals to a smartphone.
The new study was published online in the journal Science on May 24.
"By combining engineered biological sensors together with low-power wireless electronics, we can detect biological signals in the body and in near real-time, enabling new diagnostic capabilities for human health applications," said Timothy Lu, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering at MIT.
The device is the latest technology in the growing field of digital drugs that can be swallowed. Back in 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the world's first digital drug, a pill that can track whether patients have swallowed the drug or not.