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MIT researchers create ‘in-body GPS’ with medical applications

Proton beam therapy can cost upward of $20,000, but a new internal tracking system may be able to help lower those costs, according to MIT researchers.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a system that can locate ingestible implants inside the body, potentially making medical processes like medical imaging more effective but less time-consuming, complex and costly.

ReMix, described as an “in-body GPS,” uses low-power signals to locate the ingestible implants. A wireless device bounces radio waves off the patient, detecting movement of the implants, which simply reflect the radio waves and don’t require a power source. Such implants could one day help track tumors or transport drugs to specific parts of the body.

Until now, using sensors to continuously monitor the body “has largely been a distant dream,” Romit Roy Choudhury, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Illinois who didn’t participate in the research, told MIT News. “One of the roadblocks has been wireless communication to a device and its continuous localization. ReMix makes a leap in this direction by showing that the wireless component of implantable devices may no longer be the bottleneck.”

And it holds the promise of lowering costs. “One reason that (proton therapy) is so expensive is because of the cost of installing the hardware,” doctoral student Deepak Vasisht, lead author on the new paper, said in a news release. “If these systems can encourage more applications of the technology, there will be more demand, which will mean more therapy centers, and lower prices for patients.”

Thus far ReMix has only been tested on animals, and would require a margin of error closer to millimeters, instead of its current centimeters margin, to be used on people. “If we want to use this technology on actual cancer patients one day, it will have to come from better modeling of a person’s physical structure,” Vasisht said.

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