New sophisticated radio-telemetry capsules based on a 30-year-old technology have been specifically developed for clinical use, but their applications have the potential to reach beyond the hospital into basic research laboratories.

The ‘radio pill’ is the name given to a device developed in 1957 by Bertil Jacobson, professor of medical electronics at the Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm. He produced a very accurate radio-telemetry capsule, transmitting at 400 KHz, to measure pressure waves in the small intestine and in patients with diarrhea. Jacobson subsequently developed a tracking system for mapping the position of the device as it passed through the body, and he also developed a capsule for measuring acidity in the stomach and small intestine.

Eventually, this work was taken up by other researchers who developed pills for measuring a wide range of variables, including pressure in the urinary bladder and body temperature. Zoologists used them for applications including tracking animals...

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