MIT researchers invent a light-sensitive ingestible medical device

When it comes to diagnosing medical issues in the GI tract, there are a variety of devices that can be inserted into the GI tract. Many of those devices require endoscopic surgery when they need to be removed. Engineers at MIT have come up with a way to trigger this sort of device to break down inside the body when exposed to light from an ingestible LED.The approach is based on a light-sensitive hydrogel that the team designed. The team says that incorporating the material into medical devices could avoid many endoscopic procedures when medical devices are no longer needed or aren't functioning correctly.

The team is looking at different ways of triggering the disassembly of devices in the GI tract without the requirement for a major procedure. In research with pigs, the devices made of the light-sensitive hydrogel can be triggered to break down after being exposed to blue or ultraviolet light from a small LED.

In the past, experiments have been performed using other things to trigger breakdown, including changes in pH or temperature or exposure to chemicals. They believe the light-activated trigger could offer advantages over earlier approaches. The light can act at a distance and doesn't need to come in direct contact with the material being broken down.

Since light doesn't normally penetrate the GI tract, there is no chance of accidental triggering. The hydrogel is based on material developed in the MIT labs. It is a polymer gel that features a chemical bond that is broken when exposed to light with a wavelength of between 405 to 365 nanometers, which is blue to ultraviolet. This makes the material durable but allows it to break apart or weaken when exposed to the right wavelength of light.