How Ingestibles and Nanotechnology Are Changing Medicine

How Ingestibles and Nanotechnology Are Change Medicine

In the 1980s, technology was being used to advance health sciences and provide health professionals with new solutions. Back then, NASA astronauts were given thermometer pills to record their core body temperature when working under the extreme temperatures that exist in space.  Later, military studies applied similar medical technology with soldiers. Fast-forward to today, ingestibles and nanotechnology are quickly expanding their influence in almost all areas of medicine.

This type of technology is also becoming increasingly more present in commercial markets.

Ingestible Computers and Sensors Going Mainstream

Early computers occupied a whole room. Now, computers have been made so small they can mimic a tiny pill and be easily swallowed. A few of these ingestible computers are already on the market, and more are being continuously developed. Progress in the area of ingestible technology is making reliable, real-time measuring of a patient’s vital signs — without physically attaching a sensor to the body — a reality. This can be particularly beneficial in certain clinical settings (for example, in burn units where having sensors on the skin is problematic).  

VitalSense from Philips is an example of a non-invasive, ingestible sensor that can measure core body temperature over a period of 24 to 48 hours. Designed in capsule form, it travels through the gastrointestinal tract and wirelessly measures and transmits data four times per minute.

The VitalSense temperature capsule is one part of a telemetric monitoring system that also includes sensors for measuring heart and breathing rates, as well as a patch that measures the patient’s dermal temperature.

Some ingestible devices have already been in use for years and have helped make certain procedures more patient-friendly.

For instance, PillCam – an ingestible camera that takes photos of patients’ gastrointestinal tracts can replace invasive endoscopic procedures. The capsule provides the physician with a view of the esophagus, the small intestines and colon, and aids in the detection of small lesions and bleeding. The PillCam is not yet available for commercial distribution in the United States, however, it has already received the CE mark.

Soon, it will be feasible to simultaneously measure and/or monitor more than just one body function. A group at MIT is working on an “ingestible” that will be able to measure temperature and record information from the heart and lungs. The device, currently tested on large animals (pigs), incorporates a thermometer, a microphone and a battery. It is expected to be ready for humans soon and could prove to be a facile tool for clinical assessments and triage situations.

Nanotechnology in Cancer Treatment

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about the potential of gold in oncology treatments in his masterpiece Cancer Ward.

In Solzhenitsyn’s times, the attempts were rudimentary and limited. Modern nanotechnology is now enabling minute particles of gold alloy to travel to cancer cells and kill them, using specific, targeted procedures that preserve the healthy tissue. Scientists at Cornell University were able to merge tiny gold and iron oxide particles with an antibody and direct the compound via bloodstream toward colorectal cancer cells. Infrared light is then used to heat the compound and kill targeted cancer cells.

Nanoparticles can also be designed to carry drugs and weaken tumor-cell defenses. Chemical engineers from MIT developed a nanoparticle that can not only carry the cancer drug doxorubicin, but it also contains strains of RNA that make the cancer cell more responsive to chemotherapy. The method was successfully used to treat breast tumors in mice.

Disease-detecting Nanoparticles for Early Diagnosis

Early detection and diagnosis is often crucial in many diseases. Google X’s Life Sciences Team has been working on inventing a method that could perform non-invasive blood tests to check for disease markers. The research project, led by Dr. Andrew Conrad, is focused on ways of monitoring a person’s biochemistry with methods that can signal early tissue changes. For example, cancer potentially could be detected before the development of any physical symptoms. The work is still in its early stages but could potentially become a revolutionary invention in the near future.

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