A new pill-sized device that can safely monitor life-saving vital signs from inside the stomach has successfully passed its first human trials.
The swallowable device is designed to be able to monitor vital signs such as breathing and heart rate from inside the body and transfer the data to an external device such as a laptop.
Many diseases can be treated
The tool, described in the journal Device, has the potential to provide lifesaving care to people at risk of opioid overdose, scientists say. (Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. These substances are often used by addicts.)
The team also hopes it could help people with other health problems, such as sleep disorders.
Lead author Professor Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, said in a statement on the subject:
The stomach offers some of the best signals overall, mainly because it’s close to the heart and lungs, but we know we can feel them in other places too.
The ability to facilitate diagnosis and monitor many conditions without having to go to hospital could enable patients to more easily access healthcare and support treatment.
Professor Traverso says the current version of the newly developed pill passes through the body through a bowel movement in about a day, but researchers may make changes to the device in the future that would allow it to remain in the body for longer.
The device, which includes two small batteries and a wireless antenna for data transmission, has the potential to help tens of thousands of people who overdose on opioids each year.
Overdose deaths caused by any opioid increased to 80,411 in 2021; this was the highest number ever since 1999.
Deaths from prescription opioids reached 16,706 in 2021; This number is only 320 fewer than the highest number of 17 thousand 029 in 2017.
Unlike implantable devices such as pacemakers, swallowable devices are easy to use and do not require a surgical procedure. Doctors have been using pill-sized swallowable cameras for years to perform procedures such as colonoscopies.
The vital monitoring pill works by monitoring tiny vibrations of the body associated with breathing and the beating heart, and the pill can detect whether a person has stopped breathing from within their digestive tract.
Ingestible device successfully tested
To test the pill, called VM, researchers placed the device in the stomachs of pigs while the animals were under anesthesia.
The team then administered a dose of fentanyl to the pigs, which caused the animals to stop breathing, mimicking what happens when humans overdose on the drug.
The device measured the pigs’ breathing rate in real time and alerted researchers when the animals stopped breathing. The team was later able to reverse the overdose with fentanyl antidotes.
It also passed the test in humans
The team then tested the device in humans for the first time, giving the VM pill to 10 people being evaluated for sleep apnea (a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep) at West Virginia University.
Patients did not show any adverse effects from ingestion of the capsule, which passed unnoticed through the digestive tract.
The device was able to detect when participants’ breathing stopped and monitor their respiratory rate with 92.7 percent accuracy.
Compared to external vital monitoring machines, the pill can monitor heart rate with at least 96 percent accuracy.
The trial also showed that the device was safe, with all participants expelling the device in their feces within a few days of the experiment.
Nowadays, scientists are planning to bring a major update to the device. In the future, when this device detects situations such as overdose in the stomach, it will automatically secrete the opposite drug and stop the life-threatening situation.