A team from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is working on developing a GPS system that would allow medical personnel to investigate the human body in a way that is less invasive than tubes with in-built cameras or exploratory surgeries.
The system being developed is called ReMix, and utilises GPS technology. It is capable of pinpointing the location of ingestible implants inside the body using low-power wireless signals.
Conducting tests on animals, the team — led by Professor Dina Katabi — has demonstrated that that they can track the implants with a centimetre-level accuracy. The team first implanted small markers in animal tissues to track its movement. A wireless device that reflects radio signals of the patient was used to track the marker’s movement. The marker itself does not transmit any signal. It only reflects signals coming from outside the body, therefore, it does not require a battery or any other source of energy.
However, one complication that can arise is that there are many competing signals that can bounce of a person’s body. Furthermore, the signals that reflect off a person’s skin are 100 million times more powerful than the signals bouncing from the metal marker itself.
ReMix could also be used for proton therapy — a sort of cancer treatment therapy that involves bombarding tumors with beams of magnet-controlled protons. The therapy allows doctors to use higher doses of radiation, however, this requires a high degree of precision. According to the MIT team, this is where ReMix comes in. As it is capable of detecting tumor movements, doctors can use ReMix to detect the real time location of tumors and steer beams of radiation in the right direction.
The team has stated that systems like ReMix could help enable more widespread adoption of proton therapy centers. Today, there are only about 100 centers globally. Proton therapy can also be used to treat certain forms of cancer.
In addition, Professor Katabi’s team has stated that this technology could be utilised one day to deliver drugs to specific regions of the body.
“The ability to continuously sense inside the human body has largely been a distant dream,” says Romit Roy Choudhury, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Illinois, who was not involved in the research. “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.”
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have collaborated with the MIT team in the development of ReMix.