Health

New ingestible, 3D printed pill can analyse gut microbiome

The biocompatible pill can easily sample different stages of the gastrointestinal tract, which was till now impossible to track non-invasively  

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 25 July 2019
Microbiome sampling pill in the small intestine. Photo: Nano Lab, Tufts University
Microbiome sampling pill in the small intestine. Photo: Nano Lab, Tufts University Microbiome sampling pill in the small intestine. Photo: Nano Lab, Tufts University

In a first, researchers have developed an ingestible 3D printed pill, which can non-invasively assess gut bacteria throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, according to a study.

The biocompatible pill is manufactured in a 3D printer with microfluidic channels. It can easily sample different stages of the GI tract, which was till now impossible to track non-invasively.    

Current methods use DNA sequencing techniques to analyse bacteria found in the gut — known as the microbiome.

The pill, tested in pigs and on primates, showed that it can accurately conduct in vivo sampling of the gut lumen and its microbiome that is upstream of the colon and aid in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affected by the microbiome, according to the study, described in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems.

Clinical trials are needed to determine the use of pill in humans, said a team of researchers led by Tufts University.

“We are learning quite a lot about the role of gut microbiome in health and disease. However, we know very little about its biogeography,” said Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University’s School of Engineering, in a release.

“The pill will improve our understanding of the role of spatial distribution in the microbiome profile to advance novel treatments and therapies for a number of diseases and conditions,” Sonkusale added.

How the pill works

The pill has a pH sensitive coating, which dissolves once it enters the small intestine (bypassing the stomach). It consists of two chambers that are separated by a semi-permeable membrane. 

One chamber contains helical channels, while the other is filled with calcium and salt. The salt chamber creates an osmotic flow across the membrane, which then pulls the bacteria into the helical channels. 

The pill also carries a small magnet. Using a magnet outside the body, the researchers can also get a spatial diversity of the gut microbiome. 

“The design of this device makes it incredibly easy to use, posing little risk to the subject being measured, yet providing so much information,” said Giovanni Widmer, professor of infectious diseases and global health in Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Compared to other non-invasive diagnostic devices, this is like having an EKG (electrocardiogram) for gut health,” Widmer added.

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