Researchers develop an ingestible bacteria-on-a-chip to diagnose disease.

Biomolecular monitoring in the gastrointestinal tract could offer rapid, precise disease detection and management, however, it is impeded by access to the remote and complex environment.  Now, a study from researchers at MIT develops an ingestible sensor equipped with genetically engineered bacteria which can diagnose bleeding in the stomach or other gastrointestinal problems.  The team state that by combining engineered biological sensors together with low-power wireless electronics, biological signals can be detected in the body and in near real-time, enabling new diagnostic capabilities for human health applications.  The opensource study is published in the journal Science.

Previous studies show that in the past decade, synthetic biologists have made great strides in engineering bacteria to respond to stimuli such as environmental pollutants or markers of disease. These bacteria can be designed to produce outputs such as light when they detect the target stimulus, however, specialized lab equipment is usually required to measure this response.  The current study develops an electronic chip that translates the bacterial response into a wireless signal.

The current study develops a miniaturized wireless readout capsule for targeted sensing of small molecules in the gastrointestinal tract. The device combines a nanowatt-level time-based luminometer chip with a microprocessor, wireless transmitter, and a set of phototransistors inside a molded capsule. Results show that bioluminescence from activated cells is detected by phototransistors located below each cavity. Data findings show that the detected luminescence was converted to a digital code by the low-power luminometer chip and transmitted wirelessly outside the body for calibration, display, and recording.

The group state they tested the ingestible sensor in pigs and showed that it could correctly determine whether any blood was present in the stomach, via an Android app they built which can be used to analyze the data. They anticipate that this type of sensor could be either deployed for one-time use or designed to remain the digestive tract for several days or weeks, sending continuous signals.

The team surmise their ‘bacteria-on-a-chip’ approach combines sensors made from living cells with ultra-low-power electronics that can convert the bacterial response into a wireless signal that can be read by a smartphone.  For the future, the researchers plan to reduce the size of the sensor and to study how long the bacteria cells can survive in the digestive tract; they also hope to develop sensors for gastrointestinal conditions other than bleeding.

Source: MIT News Office


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