Scientists at MIT have developed a flexible sensor that patients can swallow. The sensor sticks to the stomach wall and can relay information about stomach peristalsis. This could help doctors to diagnose disorders that slow down the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract, or monitor food intake in obese patients.
The research team wanted a minimally invasive solution for monitoring stomach movements. To achieve this, they created a flexible device for increased safety. Because of the sensor’s flexibility, it can be rolled up and squeezed into a small capsule, which patients can swallow easily. The capsule breaks down in the stomach and the sensor adheres to the stomach wall soon after it is liberated.
“Having flexibility has the potential to impart significantly improved safety, simply because it makes it easier to transit through the GI tract,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
The sensor consists of electrical circuits printed on a flexible polymer. The material is piezoelectric, meaning that it can generate an electrical current and voltage when it is mechanically deformed. It’s so sensitive that movements of the stomach wall are enough to generate electricity in the material, which tells the sensor that the stomach is moving.
When testing the system in pigs, the researchers found that the sensor can easily stick to the stomach wall. Their prototype relayed information about stomach motility, and could tell when the pigs ate food or drank water. The current version of the device transmits information through wires, but the researchers hope to design a more sophisticated wireless version soon.
The sensor could help doctors to diagnose digestive disorders that reduce stomach motility. Another application involves monitoring the food intake of obese patients. “Having a window into what an individual is actually ingesting at home is helpful, because sometimes it’s difficult for patients to really benchmark themselves and know how much is being consumed,” says Traverso.
Study in Nature Biomedical Engineering: Flexible piezoelectric devices for gastrointestinal motility sensing…