NYUAD Researcher and Colleagues Develop Novel “Smart Pills” That Improve the Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders

The ingestible pills utilize magnetic fields to track movement through the Gastrointestinal tract with higher resolution and accuracy

Press Release

A team of researchers led by Khalil Ramadi, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), have developed a new, non-invasive system to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal motility disorders. To track the movement of an ingestible “smart pill” through the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the researchers have generated 3D magnetic field gradients using high-frequency electromagnetic coils that encode each spatial point with a distinct magnetic field magnitude. The field magnitude is measured and transmitted by the “smart pill” to determine its precise location, which is then communicated to a smartphone using Bluetooth technology.

Existing “smart pills” do not offer the large field-of-view (FOV), high spatial resolution, and fully wireless operation that the 3D magnetic field gradient developed by the researchers allows for. This new technology holds the potential for future use in clinical applications such as more accurate and efficient diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders and the precise targeting of therapeutic interventions and minimally-invasive procedures.

The ingestible wireless device senses and transmits its local magnetic field to an outside receiver. The magnetic field is applied by electromagnets that can be incorporated into backpacks and jackets for a more realistic assessment of GI motility, the movement of food from the mouth through the pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and out of the body, as patients go about their lives. This system was successfully modeled in the gastrointestinal systems of large animals. The findings are reported in the paper titled “Location-aware smart-pills for wireless monitoring of gastrointestinal dynamics,” published in the journal Nature Electronics.

It is estimated that gastrointestinal disorders affect more than one third of the world’s population, making it crucial to develop more accurate and effective diagnostic and treatment approaches. Specifically, several diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and gastroparesis can result from abnormal gut motility where ingested food passes too quickly or slowly, making it especially valuable to track the speed that food passes through the gut. Existing technology utilizes invasive procedures such as endoscopies or potentially harmful X-ray radiation, and often requires repeated evaluation in a hospital setting. The newly-developed “smart pill” offers a FOV that is more than three orders of magnitude higher than what previous microdevices offered, allowing for a broader scope, non-invasive, convenient, and highly accurate alternative.

The smart pill our team has developed represents a more accessible and efficient approach to assessing GI motility that can benefit both patients and medical providers,” said Ramadi. “This is a new frontier for medical diagnosis and evidence-based treatment, and has the potential, with further research and refinement, to revolutionize how we can most effectively address health challenges that impact millions of people worldwide.

Khalil Ramadi, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at NYU Abu Dhabi

Ramadi is the lead author of the study, together with Saransh Sharma, a graduate student at Caltech. Giovanni Traverso (MIT), Mikhail Shapiro, and Azita Emami are senior authors of the paper.

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.