New pill-sized device can monitor breathing from the gut

Credit: MIT.

A groundbreaking development in medical technology, scientists have created an ingestible device capable of monitoring vital signs like breathing and heart rate from within the human body.

This innovation, detailed in the journal Device, could significantly impact healthcare, especially for individuals at risk of opioid overdose.

How the Device Works

The device, known as the Vitals-Monitoring Pill (VM Pill), is a safe and non-invasive method to track vital signs.

Giovanni Traverso, an associate professor at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, emphasizes the device’s potential to simplify diagnoses and monitoring outside of hospital settings.

Unlike implantable devices that require surgery, the VM Pill can be swallowed, making it a convenient alternative to traditional methods.

This approach aligns with the growing trend of ingestible devices in medicine, such as pill-sized cameras for colonoscopies.

Benjamin Pless, co-author of the study and founder of Celero Systems, notes the familiarity and affordability of taking pills compared to undergoing medical procedures.

Testing and Applications

The VM Pill’s effectiveness was first tested in pigs under anesthesia. Researchers used fentanyl to induce a halt in breathing, mimicking an overdose scenario.

The pill successfully monitored the pigs’ breathing rates and alerted researchers in real-time, allowing them to reverse the overdose.

In human trials, the VM Pill was given to patients with sleep apnea at West Virginia University.

The device accurately detected breathing cessation and monitored respiration and heart rates, showing a 92.7% accuracy for respiration and at least 96% for heart rate monitoring.

This trial demonstrated the device’s safety and effectiveness, with participants naturally excreting the device after a few days.

Ali Rezai, a co-author and neuroscientist at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University, highlighted the device’s advantage in allowing patient monitoring in natural settings rather than clinical environments.

Future Developments

Currently, the VM Pill passes through the body in about a day, but future modifications could enable longer stays for extended monitoring.

There’s also potential for the device to automatically administer drugs to reverse conditions like opioid overdose upon detecting symptoms.

Traverso envisions numerous applications for the ingestible device, particularly in managing opioid overdoses and other respiratory and cardiac conditions.

This technology represents a significant leap forward in patient care, offering a more accessible, efficient, and patient-friendly approach to health monitoring.

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The research findings can be found in Device.

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