Scientists have developed a 'GPS' system that can track inside the human body

"In-body GPS" developed by researchers at MIT, can track implants with an accuracy of 1.4 centimeters.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
2 min read

If you want to find a restaurant, Google Maps does a pretty good job. 

Using the Global Positioning System satellites in orbit around the Earth, Google can pinpoint the restaurant's location, tell you how far away from the restaurant you are and how long it will take you to get there.

Now apply that philosophy to the human body. In diseases such as cancer, you might want to find a tumor -- but you can't use a GPS to do that.

Until now.

Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, led by Professor Dina Katabi, have developed ReMix, an "in-body GPS system" that utilizes wireless technology to locate ingestible implants inside the human body.

Current methods of looking inside the human body can be highly invasive, forcing physicians to send cameras snaking down throats or through incisions. With ReMix , you could theoretically ingest an implant that can be tracked externally. If that implant homed in on tumors it would provide doctors a way to improve targeted therapy options.

It doesn't use the satellites orbiting the Earth, however.

Testing ReMix involved attaching a "small marker" to a fake tumor inside a transparent container full of animal tissues. The marker itself only acts as a reflector, bouncing the wireless radio signal back out, and thus does not require a power source.

The chief problem with trying to detect these signals from inside the human body is the human body itself. The skin, for example, is very good at bouncing signals back. In fact, they signals that bounce off of the skin, according to MIT, are around 100 million times more powerful than the signals the researchers were trying to detect.

The beauty of ReMix is that it can pull apart the powerful competing signals and find which one belongs to the marker.

In the initial tests, ReMix was able to locate the marker to within 1.4 centimeters. In real-world GPS terms, that's like pinpointing a whole city, rather than an individual building -- and the level of accuracy isn't quite high enough to see the technology implemented any time soon. Katabi tells MIT that the margin of error would have to be closer to millimeters for it to be reliably used in a clinical setting.

You can view a video about the new technique from MIT below.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility. 

CES 2018: CNET's complete coverage of tech's biggest show.