Glasgow, Scotland — In vitro trials are under way at the University of Glasgow to test a sensor-laden diagnostic device that is swallowed to collect data as it passes through a patient's intestines. The laboratory-on-a-pill will later move to clinical trials with live subjects.
One commercial company has expressed serious interest in the project and its possible use for diagnostics in humans, said David Cumming, senior lecturer with the university's department of electronics and electrical engineering.
Funded by a development grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council as part of the Ideas (Integrated Diagnostics for Environmental and Analytical Systems) Project, the lab-on-a-pill relies on miniature biosensors as well as system-on-chip technology and could replace invasive endoscopy procedures, Cumming said. It could enable early detection and treatment of such maladies as colon cancer, he said.
"We're looking for a device that would eliminate the need for aggressive techniques, that's not unpleasant," he said. "This would be as easy to swallow as a headache tablet. That's what's on the radar screen of this technology."
The fully encapsulated lab-on-a-pill includes sensors, system-on-chip circuitry, wireless communications capability and an on-board battery with a life of about 24 hours, though the 35-mm long pill is expected to complete its work over a 12-hour period. The sensors and battery, as well as the SoC, were specifically developed for the pill, which is disposed of once excreted.
The pill's sensors sample bodily fluids and pick up "meaningful patient data" such as temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and PH levels that is transmitted wirelessly to a card that's "popped into a PC" to examine the data, Cumming said.
The Ideas project, which began with about $2.4 million in funding in January 2001, also involves researchers at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and the Institute for System Level Integration (ILSI). The project intends to create remote environmental sensing devices that integrate MEMS technology, chip sensors, plus silicon interfaces, processors and communication chips, said Iain MacFadyen, ISLI business development director. The lab-on-a-pill's processor, RF link and analog interface to the MEMS devices are being designed by ISLI, MacFadyen said.
Under the Ideas grant, researchers are also working on a pill camera with a lens, video chip and other electronics to collect data. Cumming said the volume of data collected by the lab-on-a-pill is more manageable at this point than what would be obtained in "a video dump" from the pill camera, which delivers "too much data."
"We're in the process of working out the regulatory process before we go near a human," he said. Proper clinical trials with animals would come first, however.
Cumming said "a sensor company" has expressed "serious" interest in the project. "We should have some conclusion by the end of the year," he said of the company's interest.
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