MIT researchers, working with scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have developed a new way to power and communicate with devices implanted deep within the human body. Such devices could be used to deliver drugs, monitor conditions inside the body, or treat disease by stimulating the brain with electricity or light.

In-Vivo Networking (IVN) is a technology that can wirelessly power and communicate from a distance with tiny devices implanted deep within the human body. The implants are powered by radio frequency waves, which are safe for humans. In tests in animals, the researchers showed that the waves can power devices located 10 centimeters deep in tissue, from a distance of one meter. “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,” says Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in MIT’s Media Lab and a senior author of the paper.

Because they do not require a battery, the devices can be tiny. In this study, the researchers tested a prototype about the size of a grain of rice, but they anticipate that it could be made even smaller. “Having the capacity to communicate with these systems without the need for a battery would be a significant advance. These devices could be compatible with sensing conditions as well as aiding in the delivery of a drug,” says Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Harvard Medical School, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and an author of the paper.

(c) MIT/Fadel Adib and Jimmy Day

IVN can enable many applications, like

  •  performing controlled drug delivery to treat diseases like malaria or Alzheimer’s when placed inside smart pills;
  • measuring the condition of organs and tissues–such as pressure, glucose, gut microbiome–and sending data to the outside world;
  • treating diseases like Parkinson‘s or epilepsy when integrated with deep brain stimulators.

With the new system, the researchers don’t need to know the exact location of the sensors in the body, as the power is transmitted over a large area. This also means that they can power multiple devices at once. At the same time that the sensors receive a burst of power, they also receive a signal telling them to relay information back to the antenna. This signal could also be used to stimulate release of a drug, a burst of electricity, or a pulse of light, the researchers say.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology