Smart Capsule Aims to Ease Medicating and Monitoring Diseases
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on December 28, 2018 |

Many medical conditions require popping a prescribed pill, or pills, every day. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget to take them. It can also take time for a doctor to ensure the right dosage for a patient. Researchers at MIT, Draper, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital hope to make taking medication easier for patients, as well as provide additional health-related benefits. The collaborative team of scientists has designed a 3D-printed capsule that can be customized to deliver drugs for various diseases.

“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,” said Giovanni Traverso, a visiting scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Researchers have designed an ingestible 3D-printed capsule that unfolds into a Y-shape and can release medication for up to a month. It can also communicate wirelessly via an app. (Image courtesy of MIT.)
Researchers have designed an ingestible 3D-printed capsule that unfolds into a Y-shape and can release medication for up to a month. It can also communicate wirelessly via an app. (Image courtesy of MIT.)

The team has been working for a few years on ingestible sensors and drug delivery capsules for long-term delivery—especially for patients requiring injections and those with strict dosing requirements. Building upon that research, the latest capsule, which has successfully been tested in pigs, unfolds into a Y-shape after being swallowed. This allows the capsule to lodge into the stomach of a patient and last for up to a month. It later dissolves into tiny pieces that safely pass through the digestive system.

One arm of the Y has four small compartments that can be loaded with various medications. According to their research, these drugs can be packaged within polymers that allow them to be released gradually over several days. In addition to encapsulating medication, the device also has sensors to monitor the gastric environment. It can then relay that data via a wireless signal. The team sees potential in designing another capsule compartment that can be Bluetooth enabled. This could allow wireless communication with other medical devices, or with the patient or doctor via an app.

To make it all work, the team looked to the versatility of 3D printing. Their design needed to withstand a stomach’s acidic environment and be manufactured to carry various components. The current construction consists of alternating layers of stiff and flexible polymers.

“Multimaterial 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,” said Yong Lin Kong, lead author and former MIT postdoctoral researcher who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah. “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.”

For now, the capsule is powered by a small, silver oxide battery. The team has launched a company to help further the research and develop it for human use. Additional explorations include replacing the battery with alternative power sources and developing new sensors that could help diagnose diseases early and monitor patients who are at high risk of developing an infection, as well as detect allergic reactions and release antihistamines.

Interested in more medical innovations using 3D printing? Check out 3D Printing: An Answer for Cardiovascular Disease? and Dog Receives 3D Printed Skull Implant in Pioneering Surgery.


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