The 3D printed pill described in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems represents the first non-invasive diagnostic tool capable of providing a profile of microbiome populations throughout the entire GI tract, according to the researchers. Current methods of sampling the microbiome involve primarily the analysis of fecal DNA and metabolites, but that approach provides little information of the environment upstream of the distal colon, where bacterial species can vary significantly.
The pill has been studied extensively in vitro and in vivo, and found to provide accurate identification of bacterial populations and their relative abundance, the paper says. It has been tested in pigs and primates, yet clinical trials will be needed to determine if the pill can be used routinely in humans for clinical care.
More than 1,000 species of bacteria inhabit the healthy gut. The vast majority of these bacteria have a protective and supportive role in digestion. When the natural balance of the microbiome is disturbed, a condition called "dysbiosis" occurs, which can be associated with inflammation, susceptibility to infections, and even the exacerbation of other diseases such as cancer. Research is increasingly unveiling specific microbiome metabolites that have beneficial or protective effects against disease.
"We are learning quite a lot about the role of gut microbiome in health and disease. However, we know very little about its biogeography," said professor Sameer Sonkusale. "The pill will improve our understanding of the role of spatial distribution in the microbiome profile to advance novel treatments and therapies for a number of diseases and conditions."
The pill is manufactured in a 3D printer with microfluidic channels that can sample different stages of the GI tract. The surface of the pill is covered with a pH sensitive coating, so that it does not absorb any samples until it enters the small intestine (bypassing the stomach) where the coating dissolves. A semi-permeable membrane separates two chambers in the pill - one containing helical channels that take up the bacteria and the other containing a calcium salt-filled chamber. The salt chamber helps create an osmotic flow across the membrane which pulls the bacteria into the helical channels. A small magnet in the pill enables one to hold it at certain locations in the gut for more spatially targeted sampling using a magnet outside the body. A fluorescent dye in the salt chamber helps locate the pill after it exits the GI tract.
The researchers see this technology as bridging an important gap in understanding the complexity of the ecosystem of the gut. Until now there was not a way to sample bacteria throughout the GI tract in a not invasive way. But this pill could help to better identify and understand the role of different intestinal bacterial species in health and disease."
MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: Tufts University