By Raniyan Zaman ‘22 9/15/18
As anyone who’s ever been to a hospital knows, medical tests and procedures can be uncomfortably invasive. A patient might have to undergo a variety of unfamiliar medical procedures and be prodded in order to detect the underlying problem. However, thanks to research efforts of a team at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) headed by professor Dina Katabi, a doctor’s visit may now be quicker, cheaper, and less intrusive. The CSAIL team is working on a system nicknamed ReMix, which detects the location of implants inside the body with the help of wireless signals (1). These implants are ingested by the patient and function as sensors that can be used to monitor basic bodily functions. For example, Katabi’s team has been testing ReMix with technology that tracks breathing, motion, and heart rates. With ReMix’s incredible accuracy, the group suggested it could someday be used to deliver drugs to specific areas within the body (1).
Wireless signaling was one of the first obstacles that the researchers encountered; many competing signals bounce off (and within) a person’s body and can interfere with the signals from the marker inside the body. The team designed an elegant solution to this problem: a semiconductor device (a diode) that mixes signals so that skin-related signals are filtered out (1). Skin reflects signals at certain frequencies, which the diode then combines; only these combinations are picked up by the system, eliminating other noise.
Researchers hope ReMix will be able to revolutionize proton therapy, a cancer treatment in which tumors are bombarded with beams of magnet-controlled protons. If a tumor moves during the radiation process, then healthy regions may be exposed to radiation. This uncertainty has forced doctors to prescribe this treatment only for certain types of cancers (1). With ReMix, however, a doctor might be able to track a tumor’s location and movement, and to adjust the proton beam, improving precsion and protecting healthy tissue. With proton therapy becoming less dangerous and cheaper, cancer would be able to acquire treatment more readily at an affordable price, alleviating a huge burden on patients.
Looking ahead, the CSAIL group aims to integrate medical information with wireless data to further improve the system’s accuracy. Individualizing ReMix-based procedures and accounting for the anatomical complexity of each individual are major components of the team’s future goals. While ReMix-based procedures aren’t yet ready to be implemented in a clinical setting, this technological breakthrough is likely to surge in popularity as it proves useful in advances not even imagined yet and makes it way to local hospitals.
(1) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL. (2018, August 20). A GPS for inside your body: Wireless system suggests future where doctors could implant sensors to track tumors or even dispense drugs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180820085158.htm