The future of ingestible sensors could be a cross between silicon-based circuitry and biodegradable materials, with batteries made of nutrients and running on stomach juices.
Ingestible sensors could provide a gut check for early signs on bacterial infection, look for symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s Disease, monitor uptake of medications, and even study the microbiome living inside people.
One of the main issues is how to supply the sensors with power.
“I think a lot of people hand-wave powering these devices through external RF,” he says, “but bodies are a pretty good Faraday cage,” which would prevent radio frequency energy from reaching the sensors.
His team has built a battery with a cathode made of melanin-the pigment that colors hair and skin-and an anode made of manganese oxide, a form of a mineral that plays a role in nerve function.
Proteus Digital Health, of Redwood Shores, Calif., already makes an ingestible sensor that sends data to a patch worn on the skin.
Then hope to sell a pill of Abilify, a drug for mental disorders, with the Proteus sensor embedded within it to monitor drug uptake.