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First Wireless, Implantable Temperature Sensor Monitors Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 19 Mar 2024
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Image: The miniaturized implantable temperature sensor on the finger (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University
Image: The miniaturized implantable temperature sensor on the finger (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the intestines that leads to digestive problems, weight loss, malnutrition, and various complications. For those with mild symptoms, oral medications are common treatments. However, these medications often lose effectiveness over time, resulting in about 70% of individuals with Crohn’s disease requiring surgery to remove damaged parts of their intestines at some point. Detecting inflammatory flare-ups early has been a challenge for doctors, with many episodes going unnoticed by patients until they become severe, necessitating invasive surgery. Researchers have now created the first-ever wireless, implantable sensor that can monitor temperature changes in the gut, signaling inflammation in real-time in Crohn’s disease patients. This innovation allows for continuous monitoring, potentially allowing doctors to intervene earlier to prevent or minimize damage from inflammation.

Developed by researchers at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA), this highly miniaturized sensor resembling a small, round capsule is designed for wireless communication and can be smoothly integrated into the gastrointestinal system. It functions without disrupting natural bodily processes, enabling extended monitoring periods. The research team tested this temperature sensor in mice with Crohn’s disease to see if it could provide immediate feedback on disease progression and detect sudden inflammatory flare-ups. Over nearly four months, continuous temperature monitoring by these wireless sensors revealed distinctive patterns, including changes in the natural circadian rhythms, known as ultradian rhythms, which signaled the start of inflammatory responses. They also noticed a gradual decrease in the average intestinal temperature over weeks to months, correlating with the decline in tissue health. This approach of tracking temperature changes could benefit not just Crohn’s disease patients but also those with ulcerative colitis or any condition characterized by long-term inflammation. After demonstrating success in mouse models, the team is now looking to evaluate the sensor's effectiveness in human tissues that simulate the inflammatory conditions found in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

“The magnitude of the flare-up can be measured with regards to the heat signature,” said Arun Sharma, a research associate professor of urology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Is it so extensive that it’s going to cause tissue damage over time? This could be potentially prevented if a clinician has this information readily at hand and can determine what type of therapy can be given to that person at that moment in time, rather than waiting weeks to get a blood analysis, tissue biopsy or fecal analysis. In the meantime, you’re losing valuable minutes regarding tissue damage with this inflammatory event.”

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