Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that the device could be used to provide drugs to users for a variety of diseases that require medication over longer periods of time, especially those that require strict and regular doses.
The 3D-printed pill can be controlled externally using Bluetooth, and could be developed further to detect infections or an allergic reaction in the future.
“Our system could provide closed-loop monitoring and treatment, whereby a signal can help guide the delivery of a drug or tuning the dose of a drug,” said Professor Giovanni Traverso, co-author of the research, which was published in the Advanced Materials Technologies journal.
Scientists also believe such a device could work with other health wearables and implants to send the information to the patient’s phone or their doctor.
The capsule dissolves when consumed, allowing arms to expand and lodge itself in the stomach for around a month, before it begins to break apart and leaves the body through the digestive tract.
Lead author of the paper, Professor Yong Lin Kong, said the limited connection range serves as a desirable security enhancement.
“The self-isolation of wireless signal strength within the user’s physical space could shield the device from unwanted connections, providing a physical isolation for additional security and privacy protection,” he explained.
At the moment, a small silver oxide battery powers the device but alternatives, such as an external antenna or using stomach acid, are being explored.
The group’s latest work builds on previous attempts to create an ingestible pill. In 2016, they designed a star-shaped capsule with six arms that fold up. It is hoped that humans will be able to test ingestible sensors within two years.