Scientists Develop Swallowable Capsules For Health Monitoring & Drug Delivery

In a perfect world, anyone who got sick would be able to take a pill and then instantly feel better. However, even our best medicines do not work that quickly. One of the reasons for this is that by the time we notice the symptoms of an illness, our immune system has already been overwhelmed. What if we could take our medicines before we noticed that we were sick?

This is what some research scientists at MIT considered. They thought that using an encapsulated medicine in a device that triggers release based on internal monitoring of the body would be very helpful.

Digital Trends reports about a new invention created at MIT to do this. It is a “smart” capsule that is programmable using a wireless Bluetooth signal to make the connection. The capsule can receive and transmit information when it is inside the body. It can be used to automatically release medication based on monitoring body vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. It can interact with information received by other wearable devices on the outside of the body and with a physician’s diagnostic equipment that is placed within the range of the signal transmission.

The MIT smart capsule is manufactured using 3-D printing technology. The internal mechanism is encased in an easy-to-swallow outer shell that resembles a regular capsule. This outer shell rapidly dissolves in the stomach. Then, the internal configuration expands to “Y” shape that allows the smart capsule to lodge in the stomach.



This unique design can sense internal conditions and follow programmed drug-release delivery protocols. It can respond to instructions from a smartphone with an authorized connection. Some of the best uses for this technology are for the long-term treatment of a chronic disease such as HIV/AIDS, which has a very strict dosing schedule. Many of the drugs that are now delivered by injection could be delivered more effectively in response to the feedback information collected from the patient’s body.

A good example is insulin delivery for patients with diabetes. This drug-delivery methodology would adjust automatically based on the blood-sugar level. No testing or dosing adjustments would be necessary for the patients to do. The smart capsule would do all the work to create the proper insulin/sugar balance necessary, much like how the body is supposed to work.

The current smart capsule design has four compartments for different medicines that can be opened by a control signal command. A nice security feature is that the communication over a Bluetooth connection is very close range. It is limited only to communication with an authorized smartphone of the doctor or the patient when it is held very close to the body.

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. A company has already been formed to test the technology in humans. The scientists hope to bring these smart capsules to market over the next two years.


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