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Ingestible Microbiome Sampling Pill to Help Diagnose Wide Range of Health Conditions

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 14 Jun 2024
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Image: Researchers have made significant advances in ingestible microbiome sampling pill technology (Photo courtesy of Tufts University)
Image: Researchers have made significant advances in ingestible microbiome sampling pill technology (Photo courtesy of Tufts University)

The healthy human gut is home to more than 1,000 species of bacteria, most of which play a beneficial role in digestion and protecting against disease. When the natural balance of these microbes is disrupted, a condition known as "dysbiosis" occurs, which is linked to increased inflammation, and higher susceptibility to infections, and can exacerbate other conditions, including cancer. Research is progressively identifying specific microbiome metabolites that offer protective or beneficial effects against diseases. Traditionally, microbiome sampling has relied primarily on analyzing fecal DNA and metabolites, but this method offers limited insight into the environment upstream of the distal colon, where bacterial species can vary significantly. Now, researchers have made significant progress in the development of a compact device, roughly the size of a vitamin pill that can be swallowed and passed through the gastrointestinal tract to sample the full inventory of microorganisms present there.

Researchers at Tufts University (Medford, MA, USA) who developed the device have made improvements in the previous versions of the pill including switching from a rigid shell to a soft, elastic exterior that makes it easier to swallow, and greatly improving the precision of localized microbiome sampling in the small intestine. The refined version features a 3D-printed, soft elastic shell with sidewall inlets that respond to changes in acidity, opening as the pill enters the small intestine. The pill is equipped with elastic microvalves containing swellable polyacrylate beads that seal the inlets after collecting intestinal content.

The device has been employed in animal testing to gather and analyze samples, completing preclinical characterization and setting the stage for forthcoming human clinical trials. This innovation marks a significant breakthrough in understanding the role of the thousands of microbial species throughout the gastrointestinal tract and their impact on health. It holds promise for advancing research into the connections between resident bacteria and various health conditions. It could also potentially serve as both a diagnostic tool for microbiome adjustments and as a drug delivery system to treat those conditions.

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