News ID: 207892
Published: 0942 GMT January 10, 2018

Pill-size sensor sniffs out gases that pass through your gut

Pill-size sensor sniffs out gases that pass through your gut

A swallowable, pill-size sensor that can sense gases as it travels through the human digestive tract may one day help doctors diagnose patients' gut conditions, such as lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome, a new, small study found.

Researchers tested the electronic sensor in seven healthy people and found that the device could accurately detect the concentrations of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen in real time as it passed through the body, according to the study, published online in the journal Nature Electronics, wrote.

Although the sensor's results still need to be tested in a larger group of people, including in individuals who have gut conditions, use of the sensor could one day lead to fewer invasive procedures, such as colonoscopies, the researchers said.

The capsule is about the size of a large pill — just one inch by 0.4 inches (2.6 centimeters by one centimeters). From the moment it's swallowed to the time it's excreted between one and two days later, the capsule sends data about the gut's gas concentrations every five minutes to a handheld device outside of the body. This device, in turn, uses Bluetooth to send the data to a smartphone application.

Beyond relaying real-time data about gas concentrations throughout a person's gut, the capsule trial revealed that the human stomach has a previously unknown protection system. This system kicks into gear if foreign compounds stay in the stomach for too long, triggering the stomach to release oxidizing chemicals to break down and destroy them, the researchers found.

Lead study author Kourosh Kalantarzadeh, a professor in the School of Engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, in Australia, said in a statement, "Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before."

Moreover, the capsule showed that the colon, or large intestine, may contain oxygen, as people on a high-fiber diet had high concentrations of oxygen in their colons. "This contradicts the old belief that the colon is always oxygen-free," Kalantarzadeh told Live Science.

This oxygen-related finding may help researchers understand how certain conditions, such as colon cancer, develop, he said.

If it's approved, the capsule could revolutionize the way doctors diagnose gut disorders, and even help them assess a patient's diet, he said. That's because each disease likely has its own signature of gas concentrations, so capsule readouts would allow doctors to identify any problems a patient is having, he said.

A larger trial with more than 300 patients is expected to be completed in 2019, Kalantarzadeh noted. It's unclear how much the capsule will cost if it's brought to market, but the researchers "hope to deliver it to patients under $200 in the first stage," he said.

The scientists made the electronic sensor after a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in the gastrointestinal tract and liver) asked whether the researchers could make diagnostic breath tests more reliable for gut conditions, as most breath tests are reliable just 60 percent to 70 percent of the time, Kalantarzadeh said. Such breath tests are used to diagnose conditions such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth and irritable bowel syndrome, by measuring gas concentrations.

However, the researchers weren't able to produce a better breath test, he said. That's because the amount and concentrations of gases produced in the gut change by the time they get to the lungs, he said.

"So, we started making a device, our capsule, to measure gases 'directly' where they are generated in the gut," Kalantarzadeh said.


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