A new edible sensor may help researchers and doctors study gastrointestinal diseases better. The sensor is designed to cling to the walls of the gastrointestinal tract and monitors gastrointestinal activity.

The researchers have tested the sensor on pigs and after the completion of their experiment, they claimed that it remains active in the stomach of their subject for up to two days.

The one-centimeter module can be rolled up and put in a digestible capsule which can be easily swallowed. The capsule then dissolves in the stomach. The sensor is piezoelectric which entails that they generate a voltage when manipulated by stomach acids.

The sensor is made of piezoelectric material which is made of polymers that have elasticity similar to that of human skin and, therefore, conform to the skin and stretch when the skin stretches. These materials let the sensor function without an onboard battery.

It is made by fabricating electronic circuits on a silicon wafer. The circuit consists of two electrodes — a gold electrode placed on this piezoelectric material and a platinum electrode placed on its underside. Once the circuit is fabricated, it is removed from the silicon wafer and printed on a flexible polymer called polyimide.

The sensor measures 2-2.5 centimeters and can stay in the stomach for up to two days without electrical or mechanical degradation.

According to the paper titled, “Flexible piezoelectric devices for gastrointestinal motility sensing” published in the Nature Biomedical Engineering Journal Issue dated Wednesday, such ingestible electronics can help transform patient care with the capacity to sense physical and pathophysiological issues with patients — detecting diseases and other biological issues.  It could help diagnose digestive disorders without affecting the digestive tract — it doesn’t cause the usual issues with the analysis of the digestive tract such as difficulty in swallowing, nausea, gas or constipation.

It can also help researchers analyze the effect of different food items on the digestive tract.

The device, according to the researchers, is safer than current solid and non-flexible systems for detecting gastrointestinal activity. Generally, such materials can create an inflammatory response from patients, but the new sensor adheres to the stomach and unravels inside.

“Having flexibility has the potential to impact significantly improved safety, simply because it makes it easier to transit through the GI tract. Having a window into what an individual is actually ingesting at home is helpful, because sometimes it’s difficult for patients to really benchmark themselves and know how much is being consumed,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and one of the senior authors of the paper stated in the press release published on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s website.

The researchers behind this research have also developed ingestible devices that can be used to monitor vital signs or deliver drugs straight to the digestive tract, and have also created wearable blood pressure meters.