Ingestible Stomach Acid-Powered Health Monitoring Pill

Ingestible Stomach Acid-Powered Health Monitoring Pill

When Aerossurance normally discusses Health Monitoring technology its typically the monitoring for failures in engines and helicopter gear boxes.  A new development moves health monitoring into a new realm that offers exciting possibilities to human fatigue and alertness researchers.

Researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts designed a high-tech health monitoring pill can be swallowed by humans.  It has an energy harvesting galvanic cell that runs on the acidic fluids in the stomach using zinc and copper electrodes, eliminating the risk of using battery power.

Energy Harvesting Ingestible Health Monitoring Pill (Credit: MIT)

Energy Harvesting Ingestible Health Monitoring Pill (Credit: MIT)

Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research explained:

We need to come up with ways to power these ingestible systems for a long time. We see the GI [Gastrointestinal] tract as providing a really unique opportunity to house new systems for drug delivery and sensing, and fundamental to these systems is how they are powered.

It is reported that:

The pill is small—about 40 millimeters long and 12 millimeters in diameter—though researchers hope to shrink it to a third of that size in the next prototype, as well as add other types of sensors and tweak it for long-term monitoring of vital signs.

The device delivered an average power of 0.23 μW mm−2 of electrode area.

…the device generated enough power to allow the transmitter to send a signal every 12 seconds to a base station two meters away. Once the device moved to the less acidic small intestine—it took an average of six days to travel the digestive tract—the amount of power fell to only 1/100 of what it produced in the stomach, though researchers hope to find a way to harness the power there as well.

It is also reported that:

Scientists have explored other techniques for powering ingestible electronics, but many of these methods are not well suited to these devices. One technique they tried was harvesting energy from the body’s heat. But they couldn’t generate enough of a thermal gradient in the gut to make this work. And because these capsules cannot easily be anchored to a moving surface, it has been challenging to harvest energy from vibrations.

A study that tested the device on pigs was published recently in Nature Biomedical Engineering. Lead author Phillip Nadeau said in the statement:

You could have a self-powered pill that would monitor your vital signs from inside for a couple of weeks, and you don’t even have to think about it.  It just sits there making measurements and transmitting them to your phone.

While such a device offers exciting possibilities for medical diagnosis, albeit with data privacy concerns, it also offers new ways to research human performance and alertness.

British Airways have filed a patent to use such devices as part of a program to help reduce jet lag by optimising meal and rest times.

See also our article: Maintenance Personnel Fatigue and Alertness

UPDATE 17 August 2017: Discussing earlier technology: Army researchers hope device can improve safety for airborne soldiers

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