Scientists have developed a miniature medical chip that can be used in ingestible "smart pills" to diagnose and treat diseases from within the body.
The silicon-chip device called ATOMS - short for addressable transmitters operated as magnetic spins - could one day serve as miniature robotic wardens of our bodies, monitoring a patient's gastrointestinal tract, blood, or brain, researchers said.
The devices could measure factors that indicate the health of a patient - such as pH, temperature, pressure, sugar concentrations - and relay that information to doctors. The devices could even be instructed to release drugs.
The location of the device can be precisely identified within the body, something that proved challenging with existing devices, researchers said.
"The dream is that we will have microscale devices that are roaming our bodies and either diagnosing problems or fixing things," said Azita Emami, professor at California Institute of Technology in the US.
"Before now, one of the challenges was that it was hard to tell where they are in the body," said Emami.
The new devices borrow from the principles of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in which the location of atoms in a patient's body is determined using magnetic fields.
The microdevices would also be located in the body using magnetic fields - but rather than relying on the body's atoms, the chips contain a set of integrated sensors, resonators, and wireless transmission technology that would allow them to mimic the magnetic resonance properties of atoms.
"We wanted to make this chip very small with low power consumption, and that comes with a lot of engineering challenges," said Emami.
Researchers compare their device to the 1966 sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage, in which a submarine and its crew are shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of a patient to heal him from the inside.
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