Scientists at RMIT University in Melbourne, alongside colleagues from Monash University, have created a gas-sensing sensor that can be swallowed and used as a treatment in gut disorders. The capsule has already shown successful results in the first stages of pilot human trials, and shows huge potential for monitoring human health. The results were published in Nature Electronics.
Ingestible sensors are potentially a powerful tool for monitoring human health as they can be immersed into the environment in the gut, rather than just being limited to skin contact. Sensors are available that can monitor medication and provide pH and pressure readings, but capsules providing information about the chemical composition of the gut are not. The human pilot trials carried out by the team at RMIT use a new type of ingestible electronic capsule that can sense oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide in real time.
The data uncovered can be sent to a mobile phone, and it has discovered never before seen mechanisms in the human body, including a potentially new immune system. Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, study lead and capsule co-inventor, said the trials showed that the human stomach uses an oxidiser to fight foreign bodies in the gut. “We found that the stomach releases oxidising chemicals to break down and beat foreign compounds that are staying in the stomach for longer than usual,” Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh said.
The capsules use a combination of thermal conductivity and semiconducting sensors. The selectivity and sensitivity to different gases is controlled by adjusting heating elements. Gas profiles of healthy subjects are obtained whilst gut microbial activities are controlled through their dietary intake of fibre. Results showed that the capsule accurately shows the onset of food fermentation, highlighting their potential to clinically monitor digestion and normal gut health.
The new technology could change the lives of up to one-in-five people worldwide who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, as well as meaning there will be fewer invasive procedures such as colonoscopies.
“This new information could help us better understand how debilitating diseases like colon cancer occur.” Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, Professor of Engineering at RMIT
The gas capsule offers an accurate and safe tool for monitoring the effects of diet of individuals, and has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool for the gut. “The trials show that the capsules are perfectly safe, with no retention. Our ingestible sensors offer a potential diagnostic tool for many disorders of the gut from food nutrient malabsorption to colon cancer,” said Dr Kyle Berean, co-inventor of the capsule.
The trials also demonstrated that the capsule could offer a much more effective way of measuring microbiome activities in the stomach, a critical way of determining gut health. Previously, sample analysis of the gut microbes had to be done from faecal samples or surgery to, but this was never a true reflection of the gut microbiota at that time. The new capsule offers a non-invasive method to measure microbiome activity.
“This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies” said Kalantar-zadeh. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before, and now that the capsule has successfully passed human trials, the next goal for the team is to commercialise the technology.
“We have partnered with Planet Innovation to establish a company called Atmo Biosciences and bring the product to market. This will lead to Phase II human trials, and help raise the funds needed place this safe and revolutionary gut monitoring and diagnostic device into the hands of patients and medical professionals,” explains Dr Berean.