Prototype medical sensor powered by stomach acid

Science / Tech

The protype sensor would be a tough pill to swallow (literally) as it’s 40mm long by 12mm wide.

Our bodies produce all kinds of relevant medical information every second. Some data can be obtained easily externally. Stuff like temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and any number of other fun metrics can be collected just using readily available tools. Sometimes doctors and health professionals want to look a bit deeper or monitor certain conditions over a period of time that isn’t conducive to a simple office visit. Researchers at MIT have developed a prototype medical sensor that is powered by stomach acid, opening up new avenues for research and treatment.

Ingestible medical sensors have been around for years, but they haven’t been without some shortcomings — most notably with their batteries. As we see everyday with cell phones, there’s a definite balance between size and battery power. The same can be said with existing medical sensors. Too big and the patient won’t be able to swallow it, too small and it won’t be able to last very long. Batteries are also full of all kinds of substances that could be poisonous if ruptured or damaged, so there’s always that concern too.

MIT scientists have turned to a rather elementary source for inspiration. As Seeker notes:

Remember those lemon-powered batteries from middle school science class? It’s essentially the same thing. With lemon batteries, the citric acid connects the two electrodes — usually a galvanized nail and a copper penny. Researchers simply replicated the system, attaching zinc and copper electrodes to the surface of the ingestible sensor.

In this case, your stomach acid would obviously replace the citric acid from the lemon battery. The prototype has already been tested on pigs, and the battery was powerful enough to power a thermometer and a 900mHz transmitter. Scientists were able to get temperature readings directly from the sensor at a base station a few feet away. The prototype sensor would be a tough pill to swallow (literally) as it’s 40mm long by 12mm wide (roughly 1 1/2″ long, just under 1/2″ wide). There are already ideas, however, on how to reduce the size as well as improve performance in later iterations.

There are plenty of possibilities for a device such as this. Monitoring vital signs and delivering medicine are only a few ideas put forth by the researchers. Some day maybe you’ll be swallowing your fitness tracker, who knows?

What do you think about a longer-lasting and safer ingestible medical sensor? Tell us in the comment section below or on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter.

  Source: Seeker
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