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Swallowable capsules could revolutionise bowel disorder treatment

Published on 09/01/18 at 03:10pm
IMAGE: RMIT University/Peter Clarke

Researchers from RMIT University in Australia were tasked with developing a more effective breath test for determining what was happening in the digestive tract – they failed to develop a better test but did come up with a novel alternative.

The researchers engineered a sensor that could be swallowed to provide feedback directly from the stomach itself. The sensor determines levels of gases in the stomach, such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, with zero delay.

The pill showed enough promise to be taken forward into human trials and the results provided some food for thought to everyone involved in the field of treating digestive tract disorders.

“We found that the stomach releases oxidising chemicals to break down and beat foreign compounds that are staying in the stomach for longer than usual,” Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, study lead and capsule co-inventor, said. “This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before.”

On top of this breaking discovery, the team working on the trial also revealed that there were high concentrations of oxygen in the colon in those who ate a diet high in fibre, a previously unknown fact. Kalantar-zadeh commented that this finding may aid in understanding how colon cancers develop.

The study was carried out with seven healthy individuals, who were eating either a low- or high-fibre diets. The pill was able to accurately identify when food fermentation began, which opens up the possibility for the invention to be used to monitor digestion and gut health.

Beyond this small trial, there are plans to move into Phase II human trials, after the research team partnered with Planet Innovation to create a new company to bring the product to market, naked Atmo Biosciences.

In the pharmaceutical industry, treatments for irritable bowel syndrome, such as Crohn’s disease, are becoming a large market – with Crohn’s alone expected to reach $13.4 billion by 2026, according to GlobalData.

The ability to monitor the exact gases released in the stomach and the digestive tract may lead to a greater understanding behind the conditions themselves, allowing for more sophisticated therapies to be developed.

Ben Hargreaves

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