Dec 14, 2018 | By Cameron

A study organized by researchers at MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Draper demonstrates the feasibility of 3D printing ingestible pills that can wirelessly relay information to a smartphone and deliver drugs on command. There are many ways such a device could be used, from detecting and treating infections to administering life-saving antihistamines at the first sign of an allergic reaction; such devices have been discussed at medical conferences long before 3D printing entered the conversation.

David H. Koch Institute Professor and member of the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research Robert Langer relates, “We are excited about this demonstration of 3D printing and of how ingestible technologies can help people through novel devices that facilitate mobile health applications.” Many people already use their smartphone to track aspects of their health through connections to activity trackers that measure heart rate, sleep patterns, and blood pressure, so syncing a phone to a pill that tracks internal metrics seems a natural progression.

The device can linger in the stomach for up to a month thanks to two arms that unfold after the pill is ingested and its outer capsule dissolves. As the arms need to be sturdy enough to hold the device in place but not so rigid that they might damage the stomach lining, 3D printing was employed as it could produce mixed layers of stiff and flexible materials as well as the small drug compartments in one of the arms. Lead author of the paper and former MIT postdoc Yong Lin Kong explains, “Multimaterials 3D printing is a highly versatile manufacturing technology that can create unique multicomponent architectures and functional devices, which cannot be fabricated with conventional manufacturing techniques. We can potentially create customized ingestible electronics where the gastric residence period can be tailored based on a specific medical application, which could lead to a personalized diagnostic and treatment that is widely accessible.”

When patients are undergoing chemotherapy or receiving immunosuppressive drugs, they could take one of these pills loaded with antibiotics that would only be released when an infection is detected. “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,” says Giovanni Traverso, senior author of the paper and a visiting scientist who will be joining the faculty at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2019.

In the study, the device was used to relay temperature to a smartphone an arm’s length away. “The limited connection range is a desirable security enhancement,” Kong says. “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.” It’s obviously important that strangers can’t access the connection to the device and deliver unwanted drugs, so its limited range will help with that.

Currently, the device is powered by a tiny silver oxide battery, but the researchers are investigating other power sources, like external antenna or stomach acid. “We’re really excited about the potential for gastric resident electronics to serve as platforms for mobile health to help patients remotely,” Traverso says. Tests were performed on pigs, with human trials expected to take place in two years. But the question remains, will a health-monitoring 3D printed device be too hard a pill to swallow?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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