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An “in-body GPS” system that makes it easier and less expensive to explore inside patients’ bodies is being developed by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
Rather than relying on surgical exploration or the insertion into patients of long tubes with built-in cameras, this GPS system (called ReMix) allows healthcare providers to track changes occurring in a person’s body by using wireless signals to detect ingestible implants.
“These implants could be used as tiny tracking devices on shifting tumors to help monitor their slight movements,” MIT News reports. “In animal tests, the team demonstrated that they can track the implants with centimeter-level accuracy. The team says that, one day, similar implants could be used to deliver drugs to specific regions in the body.”
Rather than sensing a wireless signal from an ingested implant, ReMix detects an external wireless signal as it’s reflected from the internal marker. The challenge there is that many signals can reflect off a person’s body, so researchers used a small semiconductor device that can filter out those extraneous signals.
"The ability to continuously sense inside the human body has largely been a distant dream," Romit Roy Choudhury, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Illinois (who was not involved in the research) tells MIT News. "One of the roadblocks has been wireless communication to a device and its continuous localization. ReMix makes a leap in this direction by showing that the wireless component of implantable devices may no longer be the bottleneck."
The CSAIL research team developed ReMix in collaboration with researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). A paper describing ReMix is being presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communications (SIGCOMM) conference in Budapest, Hungary.
The next goals for researchers are to merge wireless data from ReMix with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and other types of medical data and to fine-tune the algorithm that enables the wireless system to make it effective in different types of patient bodies.
"We want a model that's technically feasible, while still complex enough to accurately represent the human body," MIT PhD student Deepak Vasisht, lead author of the new paper, tells MIT News. "If we want to use this technology on actual cancer patients one day, it will have to come from better modeling a person's physical structure."