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Swallowable Capsule Could Transform Detection of Gastrointestinal Diseases

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 21 Mar 2024
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Image: The swallowable sensors could pinpoint gut movement problems for patients (Photo courtesy of University of Birmingham)
Image: The swallowable sensors could pinpoint gut movement problems for patients (Photo courtesy of University of Birmingham)

The conventional method for examining the intestines for gastrointestinal diseases involves an endoscopy, which uses a camera on a tube to identify visible issues. Capsule endoscopies, where patients swallow a capsule that sends images wirelessly, have marked a significant advancement. However, there is still no method to detect when the digestive tract is not working when it is not contracting and relaxing as it should when pushing waste along, and when there is no visible problem. Now, scientists have developed swallowable sensors to specifically identify gut movement problems, potentially revolutionizing the detection of gastrointestinal diseases and conditions.

A research team including scientists from the University of Birmingham (Birmingham, UK) has developed an ingestible capsule dotted with sensors that measure pressure within the gut to detect points of failure. Sized at 3 cm in length and 1 cm in diameter, the capsule is equipped with up to five ultra-thin sensors, each as thin as one or two human hairs. These pressure sensors are capable of monitoring the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract, about eight or nine meters, detecting zones of no movement, normal function, or unusual activity. Unlike traditional imaging, this capsule senses contractions as well as the amount of pressure exerted and identifies areas of inactivity.

Due to the number of sensors and flexibility, the device remains functional even if partially damaged. The scientists have ensured that the capsule does not harm the gut by using very thin sensors with a low-friction coating. They have also aimed to make the system both sustainable and cost-effective. This ingestible system can provide colorectal medical teams with unprecedented insight into a patient’s digestive tract movement or its absence. Although the system has been trialed in synthetic models and animals, it is anticipated that at least another five years of clinical trials will be required before this innovative product can be introduced to the market.

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