Scientists engineer ingestible medical devices that can be degraded with light

Medical devices, in the form of ingestible capsules, have many potential applications for  treating patients with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, including drug delivery, health monitoring, and disease diagnosis. However, these devices usually need to be removed surgically after treatment. Scientists from the Traverso lab at MIT have been exploring the use of different materials that can be degraded in-body, allowing for safe passage through the GI tract.

Most recently, these scientists engineered a hydrogel material that can be degraded with light. For durability, the hydrogel is primarily composed of polyacrylamide (a water-soluble polymer that is often used as a binder/stabilizer in lotions), which is then linked together with a light-sensitive polymer. As a proof of concept, the scientists molded the hydrogel into an esophageal stent, a structure used to keep the esophagus open in esophageal cancer patients, and successfully tested its application and degradation in pigs. To initiate degradation, a small, pill-like capsule containing a light emitting diode (LED) is ingested. This LED emits light at a specific wavelength that will begin to degrade the hydrogel as it passes through the stent. Once degraded, the hydrogel can pass safely through the GI tract for excretion. 

Moving forward, it will be important to verify that the wavelength of light being emitted by the ingestible LED is not causing any damage to tissue inside the body, though that is unlikely. Biodegradable stents are already being tested, and they show reduced long-term complications compared to their predecessors. However, the hydrogel devices will give doctors the ability to control when the devices degrade, rather than waiting for natural end-points, as with the biodegradable versions, or needing surgery to remove. Altogether, these findings provide a step forward in making treatments for GI disorders safer, quicker and more convenient for patients. It will be interesting to test the use of the hydrogel in additional applications such as drug delivery and symptom monitoring.

Managing Correspondent: Jeremy Gungabeesoon

News Article: Swallowing a Pill Filled With Light Could Be The Key to Ingestible Medical Devices. ScienceAlert

Original Article: Light-degradable hydrogels as dynamic triggers for gastrointestinal applications. Science Advances

Image Credit: iStockPhoto

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