January 17, 2018
3 min read

Gas-sensing capsules show promise as GI diagnostic, monitoring tool

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Peter Gibson
Peter Gibson

Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have developed a gas-sensing capsule that, when swallowed, can electronically report important data about the human gastrointestinal system by detecting hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen in real-time.

Investigators recently reported findings from the first human trials of this “breakthrough” technology in Nature Electronics, which showed the vitamin pill-sized capsules may prove useful as a diagnostic and monitoring tool for patients with GI disorders.

“This gas-sensing capsule is a safe and highly accurate way of measuring the concentration of various gases in the gastrointestinal tract in real-time,” Peter R. Gibson, MD, of the department of gastroenterology at Alfred Hospital, Monash University in Melbourne, told Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease by email. “It is likely to open up a new frontier in understanding of intestinal physiology (it has researchers excited) and to become an important diagnostic (as well as monitoring) tool.”

The technology works by using thermal conductivity and semiconducting sensors to measure different gases by adjusting their heating elements, and the data can then be transmitted to a mobile phone. To track its progress throughout the GI tract, investigators discovered they could use oxygen concentrations, a novel approach that Gibson said was particularly exciting.

To test the technology, Gibson and colleagues, including Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, PhD, co-inventor of the device from the school of engineering at RMIT University, performed a crossover trial in seven healthy participants adhering to either a low- or high-fiber diet. The capsules detected the onset of food fermentation, showing their potential for clinically monitoring digestion and normal gut health, and were also effective for evaluating gut microbiome activity.

“Previously, we have had to rely on fecal samples or surgery to sample and analyze microbes in the gut,” Kalantar-Zadeh said in a press release. “But this meant measuring them when they are not a true reflection of the gut microbiota at that time. Our capsule will offer a non-invasive method to measure microbiome activity.”

Additionally, the trials revealed a potentially new immune mechanism involving oxidization in the stomach.

“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,” Kalantar-Zadeh said in the press release. “This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before.”

Finally, the trials also revealed oxygen concentrations in the colon — another novel finding.

“Trials showed the presence of high concentrations of oxygen in the colon under an extremely high-fiber diet,” Kalantar-Zadeh said in the press release. “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.”

Importantly, the trials also demonstrated the technology’s safety in humans, according to co-inventor Kyle J. Berean, PhD, also from RMIT University’s school of engineering.

“The trials show that the capsules are perfectly safe, with no retention,” he said in the press release. “Our ingestible sensors offer a potential diagnostic tool for many disorders of the gut from food nutrient malabsorption to colon cancer. It is good news that a less invasive procedure will now be an option for so many people in the future.”

The study manuscript noted that the technology could also be a useful diagnostic in irritable bowel syndrome, and Gibson said its possible utility in small intestinal bacteria overgrowth is exciting.

“It has the potential to finally enable an understanding of so-called small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), which is controversial because of the difficulties accurately diagnosing it,” he said by email.

The investigators now plan to commercialize the technology, and have partnered with Planet Innovation to create Atmo Biosciences to do so.

“This will lead to phase 2 human trials, and help raise the funds needed place this safe and revolutionary gut monitoring and diagnostic device into the hands of patients and medical professionals,” Berean said in the press release. – by Adam Leitenberger

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.