MIT researchers have developed an ingestible capsule that introduces a less intrusive method for monitoring vital signs, including heart rate and breathing patterns, from within a patient's gastrointestinal (GI) tract. 

The capsule, approximately the size of a multivitamin, employs an accelerometer to measure breathing and heart rates, presenting a potential breakthrough in diagnosing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. 

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(Photo : Jess Foami from Pixabay)

Monitoring Vital Signs, Sleep Apnea Episodes

In a study involving 10 human volunteers, the researchers demonstrated the capsule's ability to monitor vital signs and identify sleep apnea episodes, where breathing repeatedly stops and emerges during sleep. 

The device, successfully passing through the digestive tract without adverse effects, showcases the potential for less intrusive diagnostic measures compared to traditional methods.

The ingestible capsule, developed by Celero Systems, features an accelerometer capable of detecting subtle movements associated with heartbeats and lung expansion. It also houses two small batteries and a wireless antenna for transmitting data to external devices like laptops. 

Tests conducted in an animal model confirmed the capsule's accuracy in measuring breathing and heart rates. Notably, the device detected a decrease in breathing rate induced by a significant dose of fentanyl, an opioid drug.

Subsequent clinical trials at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute involved monitoring ten patients using the ingestible capsule alongside traditional sleep-monitoring sensors. 

The study demonstrated the capsule's accuracy in measuring both breathing and heart rates, even identifying a sleep apnea episode experienced by one of the patients.

While the researchers initially monitored signals emitted by the capsule in the stomach, prior studies have shown that vital signs can be measured from other parts of the GI tract. 

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Less Intrusive Way

The researchers believe that such sensors could offer a less intrusive way to diagnose sleep apnea compared to current skin-based sensors, and they could also monitor the effectiveness of treatments for apnea.

Celero Systems, founded by MIT researchers, is actively working on sensors with applications in detecting sleep apnea and opioid overdose. The researchers envision the capsule's potential use in monitoring individuals at a higher risk of opioid recurrence, providing timely assistance in the event of another overdose.

Future developments aim to incorporate an overdose reversal agent, such as nalmefene, into the device, triggering drug release when the patient's breathing rate slows or stops. Additionally, efforts are underway to extend the time the capsules can remain in the stomach.

"It's an exciting intervention to help people be diagnosed and then receive the appropriate treatment if they suffer from obstructive sleep apnea," Giovanni Traverso, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said in a statement.

"The device also has the potential for early detection of changes in respiratory status, whether it's a result of opiates or other conditions that could be monitored, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)."

The findings of the research team were published in the journal Device. 

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