2 Jun 2018

Assessing gut health with a sensor you swallow

From This Way Up, 12:25 pm on 2 June 2018

The recesses of the human gut have become a new target for diagnosing and fighting disease.

Ingestible Sensor 7 (Lillie Paquette and MIT School of Engineering)

Ingestible Sensor 7 (Lillie Paquette and MIT School of Engineering) Photo: (Lillie Paquette and MIT School of Engineering)

Conditions like depression, Coeliac disease, cancer and obesity are now being linked to our gut health.

An edible gut sensor has been developed that, once swallowed, measures chemicals in the gastrointestinal tract that can be linked to particular health problems.

The results are transmitted to a smartphone app.

Mark Mimee, one of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team which developed the sensor, has written about it in the journal Science.

He says an ingestible capsule that can take visual images (the ‘pill cam’) and another to measure gases are in use or being developed.

MIT’s version has the ability to take biochemical pictures, says Mimee. It can identifies whether small molecules that might be associated with health or disease are in the gastrointestinal tract.

Engineered probiotic bacteria are put into living cells to make them light up when they sense chemicals in the gut. The electronic part of the sensor detects that low amount of light and transmits the data to the smartphone app.

Trials have been so far been carried out in mice and pigs.

Mimee is hoping the sensor might open the doors to diagnosing diseases that may not be picked up by looking at blood tests.