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Smart Pills Detect, Measure Gases in Gut

Gas-sensing capsule

Gas-sensing intestinal capsule (RMIT University)

13 January 2016. A team at RMIT University in Australia developed a device, swallowed like a pill, that measures gas concentrations in the intestine and sends its data to an outside receiver. Proof-of-concept results from tests with pigs appear in the January 2016 issue of the journal Gastroenterology.

Researchers led by RMIT engineering professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh are seeking better techniques for detecting and measuring different gases produced in the gut, which can serve as indicators of disease in the gastrointestinal tract. Current sampling methods involve insertion of tubes that often are invasive and inconvenient. With a less invasive and easy-to-use device, clinicians could get better and earlier indications of disorders such as colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Kalantar-zadeh — with colleagues from RMIT, Monash University, University of Melbourne, and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation — developed a device about the size and shape of drug capsule. The system features a gas sensor, microcontroller, wireless transmitter, and silver oxide battery, inside a gas-permeable membrane, covered by non-digestible coating. The device transmits data every five minutes to a nearby receiver that analyzes and stores the transmissions, as well as displays profiles of the gases detected.

The device was tested with pigs, which have gastrointestinal organs similar in size and function to humans, feeding the pigs diets either high or low in dietary fiber that the team could compare to published benchmarks. Some of their findings, say the researchers, are quite different from many assumptions about fiber content and digestive gases.

“We found a low-fiber diet produced four times more hydrogen in the small intestine than a high-fiber diet, “says Kalantar-zadeh in a university statement. “This was a complete surprise because hydrogen is produced through fermentation, so we naturally expected more fiber would equal more of this fermentation gas.”

This finding could have implications for people with irritable bowel syndrome, sometimes associated with bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, who could benefit from a high-fiber diet. Other findings show no change in the ratio of methane to carbon dioxide in the large intestine, between high- and low-fiber diets, suggesting changes in dietary fiber would not help people with disorders linked to excess methane concentration.

The researchers plan to improve and refine their smart pill. adding sensors for oxygen, pH, vapor,and other gases. The device, which the team says could transmit data to a mobile phone, also needs to be reduced in size, and made more reliable and durable.

“We hope this technology,” adds  Kalantar-zadeh, “will in future enable researchers to design personalized diets or drugs that can efficiently target problem areas in the gut, to help the millions of people worldwide that are affected by digestive disorders and diseases.”

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