Working with scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), the MIT researchers created a wireless system that could be used to power implanted devices that deliver drugs, monitor conditions inside the body, or even treat disease by stimulating the brain with electricity or light. In tests in animals, the researchers showed that their wireless system 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," says Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in MIT's Media Lab and a senior author of a paper on the research. "This opens up entirely new types of medical applications."
Implants that require no on-board batteries can be tiny, say the researchers. The prototype device used in this research was about the size of a grain of rice, but the researchers 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," 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 research paper. "These devices could be compatible with sensing conditions as well as aiding in the delivery of a drug."
Such devices, say the researchers, could offer doctors new ways to diagnose, monitor, and treat many diseases. Traverso's lab, for example, is currently working on a variety of ingestible systems that can be used to deliver drugs, monitor vital signs, and detect movement of the GI tract.