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Ingestible sensors unravel human gut health
January 14, 2018, 2:06 pm

The first human trials of a breakthrough gas-sensing ingestible capsule could revolutionize the way that gut disorders and diseases are diagnosed and prevented. 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 new capsule, which is the size of a vitamin pill and can easily be swallowed, detects and measures gut gases, such as hydrogen, carbon dioxides and oxygen, in real time and can be output on mobile phone screen.

The trials revealed several new aspects of human gastrointestinal system, including that the stomach uses an oxidizer to fight foreign bodies in the gut. "We found that the stomach releases oxidizing chemicals to break down and beat foreign compounds that are staying in the stomach for longer than usual," said one researcher. "This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before," he added.

Another never before seen observation from the trial was the discovery of high concentrations of oxygen in the colon under an extremely high-fiber diet. This contradicted the old belief that the colon is always oxygen free. The new information could help researchers better understand how debilitating diseases like colon cancer occur.

The trials were conducted on individuals being fed low- and high-fiber 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.

Previously, doctors had to rely on fecal samples or surgery to sample and analyze microbes in the gut. The new capsule will offer doctors a non-invasive method to measure microbiome activity in real time.

The capsule, which has successfully passed human trials, is now in the process of being commercialized through a company called Atmo Biosciences.

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