Gastrointestinal disorder? Swallow this sensor.

Gastrointestinal disorder? Swallow this sensor.

Gastrointestinal disorder? Swallow this sensor.

About 35 million Americans suffer from digestive problems such as constipation, gastroesophageal reflux disease and gastroparesis (partial paralysis of the stomach). These so-called motility disorders, in which food fails to move through the system properly, are often diagnosed by endoscopy, nuclear imaging, or X-rays.

But engineers at MIT and Caltech have developed a less invasive alternative: an ingestible sensor whose location can be monitored as it travels through the body. The innovation could one day make it easier to locate the source of the problem without a trip to the hospital. In a new study, the researchers showed that they could use their system to track the sensor as it moved through the digestive tracts of large animals.

The tiny sensor measures a magnetic field produced by an electromagnetic coil outside the body. Its progression can be calculated from the measurements because the field strength weakens with distance from the coil. The hope is that doctors could use this information to determine which part of the digestive tract is causing a slowdown and help decide on treatment.


To help pinpoint the location of the swallowed pill, a second sensor remains outside the body as a reference point. This sensor could be taped to the skin, while the coil could be placed in a pocket or backpack, or even in the back of a toilet. A wireless transmitter sends the magnetic field measurement to a nearby computer or smartphone.

“The ability to characterize motility without the need for radiation, hospital visits, or more invasive placement of devices could lower the barrier for people to be assessed,” says study lead author Giovanni Traverso. , who is an associate professor. in mechanical engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The researchers now hope to work with collaborators on manufacturing processes and possibly test the system in humans.


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