Researchers at MIT , Draper, and Brigham and Women's Hospital have designed an ingestible capsule that can be controlled using Bluetooth wireless technology.

The capsule, which can be customized to deliver drugs, sense environmental conditions, or both, can reside in the stomach for at least a month, transmitting information and responding to instructions from a user's smartphone.

The capsules, manufactured using 3-D-printing technology, could be deployed to deliver drugs to treat a variety of diseases, particularly in cases where drugs must be taken over a long period. They could also be designed to sense infections, allergic reactions, or other events, and then release a drug in response.

"Our system could provide closed-loop monitoring and treatment, whereby a signal can help guide the delivery of a drug or tuning the dose of a drug," says Giovanni Traverso, a visiting scientist in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he will be joining the faculty in 2019. These devices could also be used to communicate with other wearable and implantable medical devices, which could pool information to be delivered to the patient's or doctor's smartphone.

"We are excited about this demonstration of 3-D printing and of how ingestible technologies can help people through novel devices that facilitate mobile health applications," says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor and a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Langer and Traverso are the senior authors of the study, which appears in the Dec. 13 issue of Advanced Materials Technologies. Yong Lin Kong, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah, is the paper's lead author.

Wireless communication

For the past several years, Langer, Traverso, and their colleagues have been working on a variety of ingestible sensors and drug delivery capsules, which they believe would be useful for long-term delivery of drugs that currently have to be injected. They could also help patients to maintain the strict dosing regimens required for patients with HIV or malaria.

Early response

The researchers envision that this type of sensor could be used to diagnose early signs of disease and then respond with the appropriate medication. For example, it could be used to monitor certain people at high risk for infection, such as patients who are receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs. If infection is detected, the capsule could begin releasing antibiotics. Or, the device could be designed to release antihistamines when it detects an allergic reaction.