At the inception of human evolution, a symbiotic bacterial parasite was acquired and incorporated as part of the body. Consequently, a million years on this parasite is now known as our microbiome, a vital part of the immune system. Indeed, this microscopic world is so balanced and sensitive when the natural balance of the microbiome is skewed, a condition called ‘dysbiosis’ occurs. Moreover, this condition is associated with inflammation, susceptibility to infections, and diseases such as cancer.
Most studies use fecal samples to analyze the condition of the gut microbiome, however, the gut environment changes as contents move down the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This means there is a marked difference between fecal microbiota and gut microbiota.
Ingestible pill tests the whole gut
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 states the ability to profile bacterial species inhabiting the gut could have important implications for conditions directly affected by the intestinal microbiome. The opensource study is published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems.
Previous studies show a person’s gut microbiota is like a unique fingerprint which varies from day-to-day. This is because it responds to diet, medications, and other lifestyle influences.
Fecal samples are inaccurate
Subsequently, differences in the 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 from the makeup 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 utilizes 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. Accordingly, a salt chamber in the pill creates an osmotic flow across a semi-permeable membrane which pulls the bacteria into the capsule. Also incorporated is a small magnet used to hold the pill at certain locations in the gut for targeted sampling.
Moreover, the pill’s sampling performance was tested in pigs and primates. Results show a fluorescent dye in the salt chamber helps locate the pill after it exits the GI tract. Meaning it can be retrieved and its contents analyzed.
A map of the gut microbiota
Data findings show the capsule provides accurate identification of bacterial populations and their relative abundance. The team states such microfluid devices will revolutionize understanding of the spatial diversity of the gut microbiome and its response to medical conditions and treatments.
The team surmises 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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