Wearable implants or more precisely ingestible implants are the new way doctors could evaluate a patient’s condition. ReMix: A bucket of animal tissue containing a marker and some tracking implants placed in front of a camera-looking device that will read the signals from the trackers. (Image via MITl)

Why wear the GPS when one can ingest it? At least it seems to be the thought process of the engineers who created ReMix. A revolution in the industry of medical implants, ReMix carries a lot of promises. But what are medical implants?

According to the FDA, medical implants are “devices or tissues placed inside or on the surface of the body.” While many implants are prosthetics (replacements of limbs), there are also implants that can deliver medications, monitor the functions of the body, and even support the functions of certain tissues or organs. To facilitate the adhesion of the implants to the body, some implants are made from body tissues like bone, skin. But, there are also implants made from ceramic, metal or plastic. Sometimes the implant is placed on the body permanently, but at times it is used just to help the patient relearn specific body functions or recover better, like in the case of the like chemotherapy ports and screws. Despite their numerous benefits, medical implants still present a few risks, mostly related to the surgery some require; and that is one of the advantages of the new implant ReMix.

Designed and built by a team of researchers at the MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, led by Pr. Dina Katabi and in collaboration with the Massachusetts General Hospital, ReMix is considered as the internal GPS system that doesn’t need satellite connection. This new type of implant is ingested, so no need for surgery. Just with the way it enters the body of the patient, ReMix is already a lot safer than other medical implants. For every implant that requires surgery, there is also a risk of infection during placement or removal of the implant or even implant failure. That is not counting the bruising, pain, swelling and redness that comes after the surgical operation. Sometimes, some implants would move, requiring even more surgery. All that is avoided with ReMix. Like a GPS system, one might think that ReMix will require a very complex system; but in reality, the system only needs low-power wireless signals. So far, the best application the researchers envision for ReMix is to use the implants comprising the system as tracking devices to follow the evolution and movements of tumors. After the team was successful to track at the centimeter-level of accuracy, they felt that in the future, Remix could serve in precisely delivering medication at the exact region it will be needed.

During testing, Pr. Katabi and the team inserted a marker inside animal tissues and used a device that reflects radiation off the body. That wireless device was recognized for detecting breathing, heart rate, and movement. Next, an algorithm designed to work with the wireless device is used to identify the location the wireless signals are coming from; and consequently, the location of the marker. Since the marker didn’t need to emit wireless signals, it didn’t need an external source of power. However, the team still needed to be careful in identifying the right kind of radiation, since the human skin naturally emits radio signals; some are even 100,000,000 times stronger than the radio signals of the marker. To solve that problem, the team used a diode (a semi conductor device) to separate the interfering signals and create new combinations of radio signals that the team used as a foundation to distinguish between the skin’s radiation and the marker’s radiations.

With all these games of radiation, the team believes that ReMix will allow doctors to use higher doses of radiation for treatment of cancerous tumors. But it might be limited to only certain types of cancer given the level of precision required. Furthermore, researchers are worried that ReMix might become useless when it comes to tumors that travel inside the body. Like a moving target, those types of the tumor will be difficult to “hit.” In any case, ReMix is not ready to be tested by actual patients. Pr. Katabi believes that the system will be ready when they bring the precision level to a couple of millimeters. Besides, the team still needs to find a way to combine the wireless and medical data. It is clear that medical implants have progressed a lot. Therefore, opening more possibilities of healing for the patients. In addition, better and easier technologies also mean greater accessibility to treatments.

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