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Ingestible capsule dotted with sensors can detect gut health problems

A novel ingestible system promises to revolutionize the way colorectal medical teams monitor the movement of patients' digestive tracts
A novel ingestible system promises to revolutionize the way colorectal medical teams monitor the movement of patients' digestive tracts. (CREDIT: University of Birmingham)

A novel ingestible system promises to revolutionize the way colorectal medical teams monitor the movement of patients' digestive tracts. Instead of relying solely on imaging, this system provides real-time data on contractions, pressure, and activity levels throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, potentially identifying areas of inactivity.


Developed by a collaborative team from Heriot-Watt University, the University of Birmingham, and the University of Edinburgh, this breakthrough technology has undergone successful testing in synthetic guts and animal models. With a pending patent, the team's findings have been published in the academic journal Device.


 
 

Professor Marc Desmulliez, leading the project at Heriot-Watt University, highlights the potential impact: "This could help transform how we detect gastrointestinal diseases and conditions."


Traditional methods often involve invasive procedures like endoscopies, which can be uncomfortable for patients. Capsule endoscopies, increasingly used in Scotland, offer a less invasive alternative, but they primarily provide visual data.


Desmulliez explains, "We wanted to find a way to detect when the digestive tract isn’t working... when there isn’t a visible problem." The ingestible system, resembling a small capsule at just 3 cm in length and 1 cm in diameter, contains up to five ultra-thin sensors, each as thin as a human hair. These sensors, strategically placed along the GI tract, measure pressure and movement, identifying areas of normal and abnormal activity.


 
 

Dr. Gerard Cummins, from the University of Birmingham, emphasizes the system's resilience and safety: "The device is extremely resilient... even if it’s damaged." The team ensured that the sensors are thin and coated with a low-friction material to prevent any harm to the gut lining.


One key aspect of the system's development was its affordability and scalability. Dr. Cummins notes, "New medical technology is only useful if healthcare providers... can afford to provide it for patients."


 

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Leveraging semiconductor manufacturing processes, similar to those used in microchip production, the team engineered a cost-effective solution. This approach enables mass production of sensors, making the technology accessible to healthcare providers like the NHS.


The team's prototype was developed at the Scottish Microelectronic Centre at the University of Edinburgh, paving the way for commercialization. Dr. Cummins adds, "We can manufacture hundreds of them at the same time." As they prepare to establish a spinout company to advance the innovation, a patent is pending.


 
 

Despite these advancements, bringing the technology to market requires extensive clinical testing, with an estimated timeline of at least five more years. However, the potential benefits for patients and healthcare providers alike make it a promising avenue for future medical advancements.


Schematic diagrams and photographs of the flexible LC sensors’ design and structure  (A) Isometric schematic image of the flexible pressure sensor. (B) Magnified view of sensor, showing top inductor layer, microstructured intermediate layer with frustra, and bottom inductor layer. (C) Image of fabricated flexible pressure sensor. (D) Magnified view showing wrinkled metallic thin film inductor tracks
Schematic diagrams and photographs of the flexible LC sensors’ design and structure (A) Isometric schematic image of the flexible pressure sensor. (B) Magnified view of sensor, showing top inductor layer, microstructured intermediate layer with frustra, and bottom inductor layer. (C) Image of fabricated flexible pressure sensor. (D) Magnified view showing wrinkled metallic thin film inductor tracks. (CREDIT: Cell Device)

This ingestible system offers a non-invasive and cost-effective solution for monitoring gastrointestinal health, providing valuable insights into digestive tract functionality. With further development and clinical testing, it could significantly improve the detection and management of gastrointestinal diseases and conditions, benefiting patients and healthcare systems worldwide.


 
 

Common gastrointestinal diseases and conditions


Gastrointestinal diseases and conditions encompass a wide range of disorders affecting the digestive system. According to peer-reviewed journals, medical websites like Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), here are some of the most common ones along with their symptoms:


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Symptoms: Heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, hoarseness, sensation of a lump in the throat.


Peptic Ulcer Disease: Symptoms: Burning stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating, weight loss, appetite changes, dark or bloody stool.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) (includes Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis):

Symptoms: Diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, weight loss, fatigue, fever, reduced appetite.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Symptoms: Abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, alternating diarrhea and constipation.


 
 

Celiac Disease: Symptoms: Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, joint pain, skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis).


Gallstones: Symptoms: Sudden and intense pain in the upper right abdomen, back pain between the shoulder blades, nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).


Diverticulitis: Symptoms: Abdominal pain (usually in the lower left side), fever, nausea, vomiting, changes in bowel habits, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.


Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu): Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, headache, muscle aches.


Gastritis: Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, indigestion, bloating, loss of appetite, black or tarry stools.


Hemorrhoids: Symptoms: Rectal bleeding (bright red blood in stool), itching or irritation in the anal region, pain or discomfort during bowel movements, swelling around the anus.


 
 

These symptoms can vary in severity and may overlap with other conditions, so it's important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.






For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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