June 4 (UPI) -- A prototype device about the size of a grain of rice -- that can receive power and communicate wirelessly from inside the body -- for drug delivery, disease treatment or just health monitoring has been developed by researchers.
MIT researchers and scientists from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston have developed the tiny implants -- they expect they can be made even smaller than a grain of rice -- that are powered by radio frequency waves and can safely pass through human tissues.
The research on development of the devices will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Data Communication conference Aug. 20-25 in Budapest, Hungary.
"Even though these tiny implantable devices have no batteries, we can now communicate with them from a distance outside the body," senior paper Dr. Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in MIT's Media Lab, said in a press release. "This opens up entirely new types of medical applications."
Researchers envision this process could be used to deliver drugs via smart pills, monitor vital signs and detect movement in the GI tract. They even propose that, inside the brain, the implantable electrodes could deliver an electrical current -- known as deep brain stimulation -- to treat Parkinson's disease or epilepsy.
Researchers said the device could be made even smaller than a grain of rice, as tested in an animal model, because it doesn't require a battery.
"Having the capacity to communicate with these systems without the need for a battery would be a significant advance," said Dr. Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
In pigs, they were able to send power from about 39 inches outside the body to a sensor just under 4 inches deep in the animal's body. They can be powered from up to 125 feet away if the sensors are close to the skin's surface.
Implantable medical devices, such as pacemakers, currently require their own batteries and have a limited lifespan. But MIT researchers envision implantable devices powered wirelessly with radio waves emitted by antennas.
In the past, scientists were unable to use radio waves because they dissipate as they pass through the body.
The Boston researchers devised a system called "In Vivo Networking," which relies on antennas that emit radio waves of slightly different frequencies. These radio waves overlap and combine in different ways, combining enough energy to power an implanted sensor.
"We chose frequencies that are slightly different from each other, and in doing so, we know that at some point in time these are going to reach their highs at the same time," Adib said.
Because power is transmitted over a large area, the exact location of the sensors in the body doesn't need to be known. This also means multiple devices can be powered simultaneously at once.
The researchers are further developing the devices, making them more efficient and able to operate over greater distances.