Researchers from MIT, Boston University, the University of Chicago, Analog Devices, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a tiny “smart pill” that uses luminescent bacteria to diagnose gut problems. The pill, about the size of a blueberry, is much smaller than previous versions, making it easier to swallow.
The smart pill contains genetically engineered probiotic bacteria, electronic components, and a small battery. Once swallowed, it travels to the large intestine, where the bacteria produce light when exposed to specific biological molecules associated with certain gut diseases. The onboard electronics detect this light and transmit a wireless signal to a doctor’s smartphone or computer outside the body.
This non-invasive procedure can be repeated multiple times, allowing for the detection of short-lived biomarkers that traditional colonoscopies may miss. The pill is eventually excreted from the body with feces.
In tests on pigs, the smart pill successfully detected and reported levels of nitric oxide, a biomarker associated with various inflammatory bowel diseases. Researchers believe that by adjusting the bacteria’s genetic engineering, the pill could potentially detect other types of biomarkers, making it a valuable tool for gastrointestinal research.
MIT’s Assoc. Prof. Timothy Lu explained the significance of the smart pill, saying:
“The inner workings of the human gut are still one of the final frontiers of science. Our new pill could unlock a wealth of information about the body’s function, its relationship with the environment, and the impact of disease and therapeutic interventions.”
This innovative approach to diagnosing gut problems offers a less invasive and potentially more accurate method of detecting and monitoring gastrointestinal diseases. The study detailing the smart pill’s development and capabilities was published in the journal Nature.
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