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Humans and technology

Some day you may be able to monitor your stomach from your smartphone

June 12, 2018

Researchers have figured out a new way to power and get data from tiny sensors embedded in pig organs, which could lead to smarter time-release medicines or simply better ways of keeping an eye on your health.

The work: MIT and Harvard researchers say they’re using radio waves to remotely juice up and send data to and from sensors buried deep in the body. The initial research looks into simple RFID chips embedded in the stomachs of live pigs, though the plan is to eventually move on to testing it out in people. They can do this from a distance of a meter or more from the body, depending on how deeply the sensor is embedded.

The power: It’s tricky to communicate with smart pills and other internal sensors, especially at a distance, because wireless signals weaken as they go through our bodies. The researchers used several antennas to send radio waves that combined at the sensor, providing it with enough of a kick to power on and, essentially, let researchers know it was there (this video gives a sense of how it works).

The potential: Fadel Adib, who’s working on the project and leads MIT’s Signal Kinetics Research Group, hopes this work could lead to pills that sit in the body and dispense medication as needed (such as for Alzheimer’s patients), or a network of several tiny sensors within a person’s body, monitoring glucose or watching for blood clots.

What now: Adib says researchers want to build a more complex device, perhaps including sensors for monitoring temperature or pressure.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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