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Ingestible sensors

One of the keys to a healthy life, is nutrition. But what exactly constitutes ‘healthy’ food for a specific person? To answer that question, you need to measure and analyze the processes inside the complex human digestive system. Imec is working on technology that is up to that task.

Towards an inside view of our diet

Digestive processes are hard to examine. Almost all known methods involve a prolonged endoscopy, which is uncomfortable for the patient and only allows for a relatively short-term observation in one specific place of the stomach.

That’s why ingestible sensors will benefit patients as well as doctors. Imec is developing technology that will complement existing pill cameras by measuring the mechanical, chemical and electrical processes in the gut.

Imec's research for ingestible sensors fits into the exploration of data-controlled food and health – one of the objectives of the OnePlanet Research Center.

The ingestible technology to track gut health was demonstrated at Future Summits 2020:

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All-in-one ingestible sensor

Imec is working on technology that will enable an ingestible sensor that’s small enough to swallow, yet packed with technology: sensors, signal processing and power management.

Once in the digestive system, the ingestibles could, in real time, sense and transmit:

  • mechanical movements of the gastro-intestinal tract
  • electrical stimuli that govern the muscle contractions
  • chemical processes, involving hormones and enzymes, that break down the food

That data could then be transmitted to a wearable device.

This requires fundamental innovations: 

  • miniature electro-chemical sensors that provide high specificity in a challenging environment
  • ultra-low-power miniature interfaces and signal processing electronics, co-designed with the sensors
  • volume-constrained wireless power and data communication technology, crucial to enable truly ingestible sensors
  • bio-compatible thin and safe packaging
Ingestible sensor prototype

Prototype of imec's ingestible sensor

Diagnostic and preventive uses

By fixating the ingestible imec sensors along the gastrointestinal tract, the data they collect could be used to precisely diagnose digestive disorders with typically vague complaints: indigestion, gastrointestinal hypermotility and dysmotility, etcetera.

But preventive applications are also possible. Perhaps one day people will regularly take an ingestible sensor with their meal. Not much later, their smartphone will give them a detailed overview of the nutrients, such as fibers, that their body actually absorbed – along with some advice on how to balance their diet.

Want to work with us on these exciting possibilities? 

Get in touch

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