By Sy Mukherjee
May 25, 2018

MIT scientists have developed new tech nestled at the corner of several growing, if still nascent, elements of the life sciences zeitgeist: An ingestible sensor containing genetically modified bacteria that could be used to sniff out diseases in the hard-to-reach gastrointestinal tract (by relaying data to a smartphone).

Let’s start off with the inevitable caveats. The study of the device, published in Science, is very early stage and involved pigs, not humans. But the technology’s potential applications are striking.

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“By combining engineered biological sensors together with low-power wireless electronics, we can detect biological signals in the body and in near real-time, enabling new diagnostic capabilities for human health applications,” said MIT’s Timothy Lu in a statement. Put another way: These “living cell” sensors can interact with blood components, including biological markers that indicate disease, and relay those responses through a wireless, smartphone-readable signal.

You can check out MIT’s video of the technology here.

Ingestible sensors are having a moment, as evidenced by the FDA approval of the first-ever “digital pill” last year. That device, from Proteus Digital Health and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, is meant to monitor whether or not patients are sticking to their prescribed drug regimens. The prospect of being able to use other forms of that tech to provide a real-time readout on what’s happening in the gut—which could have implications for everything from gastrointestinal disorders to figuring out how to make drugs more effective—is a notable one.

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