MIT Researchers Unveil SmartPill That Monitors Vital Signs


MIT researchers working from the university’s Lincoln Laboratory and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research have co-developed a new ingestible smartpill that monitors core body temperature, respiration rate, and heart rate as it travels through a patient’s digestive system. The team’s progress was published in this month’s PLOS One journal. Researchers hope to see the technology rolled out to improve patient monitoring in hospitals, as well as to support soldiers and athletes.

The pill contains a miniaturized thermometer as well as a microphone and a small antenna. The thermometer tracks core temperature, while the microphone is used to record and analyze heart and lung sounds. An antenna then transmits the temperature and raw audio data to an external receiver, boasting a communications range of 10 feet, impressive given that the entire device is smaller than an almond. Once the information has left the body, researchers are able to process the audio data to calculate both respiration rate and heart rate. The device itself is only expected to remain in the digestive track for a day or two before being passed, making it optimal for patients that would benefit from short-term monitoring, but not ideal for patients that require long-term monitoring.

Once use case the researcher team outlined is burn victims. Today, the equipment traditionally used for vital sign monitoring is applied directly to the skin. This direct contact is often impossible for burn victims, and so an alternative approach to monitoring these patients would be helpful. In addition to burn victims, researchers see a military application where deployed units could monitor soldiers while operating in extreme heat or cold. This kind of technology would allow a unit’s medical team to monitor troops for dehydration and heat shock, as well as for hypothermia.

Moving forward, researchers plan to improve the sensors and processing capabilities of the technology so that it can be used to identify abnormal heart rhythms or respiration issues in an outpatient population.

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