A New Way to Monitor Vitals — from Inside Your Body

November 20, 2015 | Elizabeth Knowles

Ingestible sensor can monitor heart and breathing rates from within the gut
Photo credit: Albert Swiston/MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Have you swallowed your stethoscope today?

Thanks to an invention from researchers at MIT, it may take nothing more than swallowing a pill to monitor your vitals in the future. Doctors may soon be able to monitor a patient’s heart and breathing rates through an ingestible electronic device.

Researchers were inspired by current swallowable technologies that measure body temperature or take internal digestive-tract images. They wondered about listening to the bodies’ sounds, specifically heart beats and inhaling and exhaling, using a microphone.

SEE ALSO: Photographing Your Digestive System Like Never Before

"Through characterization of the acoustic wave, recorded from different parts of the GI tract, we found that we could measure both heart rate and respiratory rate with good accuracy," says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and one of the lead authors of a paper describing the device.

Currently, vitals are monitored through the skin either by a doctor or through a wearable device, but sometimes neither of these options is practical. Patients aren’t always near a doctor and devices can be uncomfortable. This new sensor is the size of a multivitamin and would be made up of a microphone packaged in a silicon capsule with electronics to process sound. It would be able to send a wireless signal to an external receiver up to three meters away.

Since the device would not remain in a patient’s digestive tract for more than a day or two, a new pill would need to be swallowed frequently.

Monitoring vitals from a distance could increase compliance in patients whose vitals need to be kept in check but are resistant to constantly wearing a device, as well as soldiers in battle or athletes in training.

Researchers have high hopes for future applications of this device. Imagine a pill that could diagnose abnormal heart rhythms or breathing problems. Or even better, imagine one that could monitor a patient and deliver drugs as needed depending on the current state of the their medical condition.

So far the pills have only been tested in animals, but results have been positive.


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