Capsule provides new GI tract testing method

Researchers developed a device for measuring gases, potentially changing how we study the digestive system.

Based out of Melbourne, the RMIT University team created a pill-sized capsule designed to measure concentrations of specific gases inside the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). A study was published as a “proof-of-concept demonstration,” meaning that the goal was to show that the device could work in the way that they designed it.

Other capsules capable of measuring pH levels or equipped with cameras have already been introduced but this device is the first of its kind. This capsule, enclosed inside a gas-permeable membrane, is equipped with a gas sensor, microprocessor, and wireless transmitter.

As the pill makes its way through the digestive system, it measures the gases present in the environment and transmits to a handheld device every five minutes, said the team of researchers. Certain gases cause smooth muscle tissue to contract inside the intestine, so an excess or lack of these gases can cause a variety of issues such as constipation. Mark Bracken, professor of physiology, said that the capsule is much less invasive for the patient than an endoscopy or colonoscopy, which both require anesthesia.

Bracken said studying the GI Tract via endoscopy/colonoscopy is limited because two sphincters protect either end to a 20-foot long section of intestine.

“Currently, MRIs and barium swallows are ways to reveal information about what’s happening inside that section of intestine,” he said.

Megen Kepas, a UVU biology grad, works at a gastroenterology clinic. She explained that small bowel bacterial overgrowth is usually treated with antibiotics that target the bowel.

“It would be interesting to measure the amount of gas present before and after treatment with antibiotics to see if antibiotic treatment really does significantly lower the amount of gas present in the small bowel,” Kepas said.

Although this device shows potential to influence the study of the GI tract, some remain skeptical.

Bryce Haslem, a local gastroenterologist, said that there are already existing methods for testing gases present in the stomach and bowel, like breath testing, so this method would have to be more cost effective or accurate in order to replace other methods.

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