Got Gas? There’s a Fart-Tracking Pill for That

Scientists in Australia have developed an ingestible sensor to detect and measure gut gasses in the stomach. The data can be sent to a phone or computer and could change the way gut disorders are diagnosed and treated.

Peter Clarke/RMIT University

Researchers from RMIT University in Australia just completed human trials on a new swallowable sensor that could help uncover mechanisms in the human gut that have never been seen or studied before. The capsule-size sensor could offer researchers insight into how gases are oxidized in the stomach, revealing new information on how foreign compounds are broken down in the stomach.

The ingestible technology is roughly the size of a vitamin and was designed to detect and measure gut gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxides, and oxygen in the stomach. That data can then be sent to a mobile phone or computer where researchers have begun to study and understand how the human gut uses these gases to break down and conquer foreign compounds, like a gastric immune mechanism.

Another new finding from the human trials was the revelation that the colon may contain oxygen, an observation that directly contradicts the long-held belief that the colon is always an oxygen-free environment. The discovery could lead to an enhanced understanding of how debilitating diseases like colon cancer occur.

The recent trials involved seven healthy people who were placed on both low and high fiber diets. The study showed the sensor could accurately detail the onset of food fermentation, revealing the device's potential to be used to clinically monitor digestion and the signs of normal gut health.

For years, researchers have had to rely on fecal samples and surgery to collect and analyze various microbes from the gut. Not only was this an invasive process, but it also couldn’t offer the opportunity to observe and measure the microbes in their native environment, which severely limited researchers ability to understand and measure microbiome activity. The technology was designed to provide the first opportunity to study the activities inside the gut both noninvasively and in real time. 

The trials highlight the latest in microscopic technologies being leveraged against the harsh conditions of the human stomach to advance our understanding and treatment of stomach disease. Last year researchers from UC San Diego developed tiny “submarine” drug carriers that could navigate the tiny acidic bowels of the human stomach. The microscopic drug carriers were designed to neutralize gastric acid as they navigate the stomach before releasing a drug payload once a desired pH level is reached.

Both technologies signal a new approach to diagnosing and treating stomach disease, as researchers look toward microscopic technologies that are specifically designed to navigate the stomach in less invasive ways.

Now that the ingestible capsules have successfully passed their first human trials, researchers will begin to tailor the technology so that it can impact both the diagnostic and therapeutic side gut disorders. The group believes the primary use of the technology could be a new diagnostic tool for a myriad of different gut disorders, from food nutrient malabsorption to colon cancer.

In time, the hope is that the technology could lead to a variety of breakthroughs to revolutionize the way gut disorders are diagnosed and treated.

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