Orally-ingestible pill tests the microbiome at any stage of the gastrointestinal tract.

It is known that when the natural balance of the microbiome is skewed, a condition called ‘dysbiosis’ occurs, associated with inflammation, susceptibility to infections, and diseases such as cancer. Research is still pinpointing specific microbiome metabolites which proffer protection against disease. Most studies use fecal samples to analyse the condition of the gut microbiome, however, as the gut environment changes as contents move down the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it has been shown that the difference between fecal microbiota and the gut microbiota varies too much. Now, a study from researchers led by Tufts University develop a 3D printed pill which samples the gut microbiome as it passes through the GI tract. The team state the ability to profile bacterial species inhabiting the gut could have important implications for conditions that affect and are affected by the intestinal microbiome. The opensource study is published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems.

Previous studies show that a person’s gut microbiota is like a unique fingerprint which varies day to day, as it responds to diet, medications and other lifestyle influences. Differences in environment throughout the GI tract also diversifies the microbiota, with analysis of the gut microbiota coming from fecal samples. Therefore, the microbiota composition of feces may be different to the make up of the gut microbiota. The current study develops a non-invasive diagnostic tool capable of providing a profile of microbiome populations throughout the entire GI tract.

The current study utilises a 3D printer to manufacture a capsule with microfluidic channels which can sample microbiota from different stages of the GI tract. The surface of the pill is covered with a pH sensitive coating, which doesn’t absorb any samples until it enters the small intestine where the coating dissolves. A salt chamber in the pill creates an osmotic flow across a semi-permeable membrane which pulls the bacteria into the capsule, as a small magnet is used to hold the pill at certain locations in the gut for targeted sampling.

The pill’s sampling performance was tested in pigs and primates. Results show that a fluorescent dye in the salt chamber helps locate the pill after it exits the GI tract, so it can be retrieved and its contents analyzed. Data findings show the capsule provides accurate identification of bacterial populations and their relative abundance. The team state that such microfluid devices will revolutionize understanding of the spatial diversity of the gut microbiome and its response to medical conditions and treatments.

The team surmise they have developed an orally-ingested capsule which collects various species of microbiota as it passes through the GI tract. For the future, the researchers state clinical trials will be needed to determine if the pill can be used routinely in humans for clinical care.

Source: Tufts University

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