As the research on ingestible medical implants is booming, it’s still a challenge for the researchers to power those tiny devices while they are deep inside the human body. Traditional batteries are not only large in size but are also toxic and need to be replaced after a certain time. However, researchers from MIT are working on new types of medical implants that can be powered and communicate wirelessly deep within the human body.
The prototype the team has been working on is about the size of a grain of rice, as it doesn’t contain any battery. However, the researchers think they could make it even smaller.
In Vivo Networking
Traditionally, radio waves spread out while passing through human tissue, which has made them difficult to use to communicate with a device implanted inside a human body. So, teaming up with scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, MIT researchers developed a new type of antenna system, which inhibits the problem. Known as “In Vivo Networking” or IVN, this system lets them power and communicate with their implantable devices from a significant distance.
So far, the system has been tested on pigs. When they embedded the implant 10 centimeters within the pig, it could be powered from up to a meter away. They were able to power the device from as far as 38 meters away when it was just under the skin surface.
“There’s currently a tradeoff between how deep you can go and how far you can go outside the body,” said Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in MIT’s Media Lab. “Even though these tiny implantable devices have no batteries, we can now communicate with them from a distance outside the body. This opens up entirely new types of medical applications.”
The device is still a prototype and researchers are working to improve its efficiency so they could communicate with the device from a longer distance. They will present their work at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Data Communication (SIGCOMM) annual conference in August.