Swallowable sensors reveal mysteries of human gut health
Findings from the first human trials of a breakthrough gas-sensing swallowable capsule could revolutionise the way that gut disorders and diseases are prevented and diagnosed.
The trials by researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have uncovered mechanisms in the human body that have never been seen before, including a potentially new immune system. The new technology and discoveries offer a game-changer for the one-in-five people worldwide who will suffer from a gastrointestinal disorder in their lifetime. They could also lead to fewer invasive procedures like colonoscopies.
The ingestible capsule (the size of a vitamin pill) detects and measures gut gases - hydrogen, carbon dioxides and oxygen - in real time. This data can be sent to a mobile phone. 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," Kalantar-zadeh said.
"This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before." Another never before seen observation from the trial was that the colon may contain oxygen. "Trials showed the presence of high concentrations of oxygen in the colon under an extremely high-fibre diet," Kalantar-zadeh said. "This contradicts the old belief that the colon is always oxygen free.
"This new information could help us better understand how debilitating diseases like colon cancer occur."
The trials were conducted on seven healthy individuals on low- and high-fibre diets. Results showed that the capsule accurately shows the onset of food fermentation, highlighting their potential to clinically monitor digestion and normal gut health. 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. Now that the capsule has successfully passed human trials, the research team is seeking to commercialise the technology.