Tummy ache? Swallow this sensor-studded pill to get a diagnosis on your phone

Imagine popping a pill which can then monitor your insides for potential signs of poor health. That is what a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been working on — only instead of being the kind of soluble pill your doctor may prescribe, this one is a pill-sized ingestible capsule designed to monitor blood in the gastrointestinal tract. About the size of a pen cap, the prototype sensor combines electronics with useful bacteria. With this fearsome combination, it can detect signs of excessive bleeding in the gut, and then transmit the results to your smartphone.

“We’ve developed a new type of ingestible sensor by packaging living bacterial sensor cells together with readout electronics into a small capsule,” Phillip Nadeau, a former postdoctoral associate at MIT, told Digital Trends. “The cells were genetically engineered to start glowing when they detected heme molecules released during a stomach bleed. This low level of light given off by the cells was detected by the electronics in the capsule, and a signal representing the light level of the cells transmitted outside the body to a user’s cellphone. The advantage of using cells is that they are able to perform detection in harsh environments like the GI tract, and in principle they can be engineered to sense many different types of molecules.”

ingestible pill mit gut sensor 7
Lillie Paquette/MIT School of Engineering

Long term, the team envisions the device being swallowed by patients at home to provide a biochemical picture of their gut. Doing so would allow them to more easily diagnose or manage a range of diseases, including gastric ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer. It could potentially do this, while also lowering the need to perform invasive procedures such as colonoscopies and biopsies for these conditions.

The project is still in prototype phase and none of the sensors have actually been ingested by a human. They have, however, been successfully tested on the guts of a pig, and the team hopes that human trials could be a possibility going forward. To do this, they will have to find a way to further miniaturize the sensor — which comprises a microprocessor, button-cell battery, and wireless transmitter — without reducing its abilities.

“We teamed up with Dr. Giovanni Traverso and his group at MIT to validate the prototype device in a pig model of gastric bleeding, and showed that it worked there,” Mark Mimee, a Ph.D. student at MIT, told us. “In the future, we’re interested in expanding the functionality of the device to other markers of gastrointestinal disease, with a focus on markers of inflammation. Additionally, we’re working on further miniaturizing the electronic components of the device and shrinking the power consumption and battery size to lower the overall footprint, and mitigate the risk of complications.”


Hey Google, let’s order out: Food delivery comes to Search, Maps, and Assistant

If you love your takeout, then Google's new online food ordering system is sure to bring a smile to your lips. You can now order takeout from Google Search results, Google Maps, or by using Google Assistant and pick your delivery service.
Home Theater

Game of Thrones is over -- here's how to cancel your HBO subscription

Game of Thrones is over, and, for some die-hard fans disappointed with the finale, so is their connection to HBO. Here's how to cancel your subscription, whether you use HBO Now, or have subscribed through your cable provider.
Smart Home

It’s time for you to stop using dryer sheets. Here’s why

Dryer sheets might make your clothes feel softer and smell nicer, but there's a downside to using them. They reduce the absorbency of your towels, disable the wicking capabilities of activewear, and cause lint buildup.
Social Media

Be the master of your own Insta-verse with multiple Instagram accounts

Whether you own a small business or have separate Instagram accounts for your five cats, we'll walk you through the process of switching between your multiple accounts on your Apple or Android devices.
Emerging Tech

Impossible’s new plant-based sausage is here, but only at Little Caesar’s

Impossible Foods has teamed up with Little Caesars restaurants to create a new plant-based sausage pizza topping. Get ready for ... The Impossible Sausage. Here's where you can try it.
Emerging Tech

First, it was San Francisco. Now, the U.K. is fighting facial recognition

The U.K.'s first legal battle over police use of facial recognition has kicked off. The case involves a citizen who alleges the tech was used against him in a breach of his privacy.
Emerging Tech

The rise and reign of Starship, the world’s first robotic delivery provider

Excited about the impending delivery robot revolution? If so, you need to get familiar with Starship Technologies, the company which pioneered the whole thing. Here's what you need to know.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk thinks Starlink satellite internet could be online before 2021

Elon Musk's ultra-ambitious Starlink space internet project may take until November 2027 to be fully operational. However, some level of service could be offered as soon as next year.

Has purpose become a punchline? Among startups, the debate rages

Tech companies pledging to do good as they make money hand over fist has become a Silicon Valley punchline, but beneath the jeering, a real debate is playing out among startup founders and the investors who fund them.
Emerging Tech

This guy managed to squeeze an entire game console into a Game Boy cartridge

Popular YouTuber 3DSage has managed to compress an entire mobile games console inside a single original Game Boy cartridge. Check it out in all in its impressively miniaturized glory.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s bipedal delivery robot can walk straight up to your doorstep

Autonomous wheeled delivery robots are seemingly everywhere in 2019. Agility Robotics' Digit robot takes a different approach: It promises to carry out its deliveries while walking on two legs.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use an X-ray laser to create the loudest possible underwater sound

Researchers from Stanford University and the Department of Energy have produced the loudest sound possible to make under water. Here's how they managed to create it — and why they did it.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Huawei updates, Starlink launch, and Pac-Man’s birthday

On this episode of DT Live, we discuss the ongoing Huawei saga, Amazon’s social games for workers, Ford's partnership with a robotics company, the Starlink satellite launch, Pac-Man’s birthday, and more.
Emerging Tech

Las Vegas officials bet big on Elon Musk’s Boring Company

Elon Musk’s Boring Company has just been awarded a $48.6 million contract by Las Vegas to build a high-speed transportation system beneath the city’s enormous convention center, and it could be ready by early 2020.