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Pufferfish-inspired pill could keep a long-term eye on your gastric health

Date: 30.1.2019 

MIT researchers have developed an ingestible pill that swells up to the size of a ping-pong ball upon reaching the stomach, allowing it to remain in the body and take measurements from within – for weeks at a time. The pill's creators hope that it could be used for a multitude of purposes, from tracking stomach pH levels to observing the growth of tumors and ulcers.

Kredit: Xinyue Liu, Shaoting Lin.One of the key issues with ingestible electronics is the size of the devices. If a pill containing a sensor is small enough to pass through the throat, or esophagus of a patient unaided, it is also small enough to exit the stomach and pass into the small intestine.

The team of scientists behind the development of the new technology sought to prevent this from happening, by designing a pill capable of swelling up multiple times its original size once it reaches the stomach. As is so often the case with medical advancements, the researchers looked to nature for inspiration, and found it in the form of one of Earth's stranger aquatic denizens – the pufferfish. Upon detecting a threat, it is able to suck in water at an impressive speed, forcing its body to expand to more than twice its normal size.

Alongside laboratory testing, the pill also underwent animal trials. Researchers embedded thermometers inside a number of devices and fed them to pigs. It was discovered that the sensors were able to accurately track the animals' activity patterns for up to 30 days.

The pill has the potential to be extremely versatile. It could house any number of sensors, ranging from the type of thermometer employed in the recent tests, to equipment used either to measure pH levels, or to seek out the biomarkers of bacteria and viruses present in the stomach.

 


 

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