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article image3D-printed pills sample the gut microbiome to aid treatment

By Tim Sandle     Jul 31, 2019 in Science
To explore the inner complexities of the human gut microbiome, researchers have developed a 3D-printed pill that can sample bacteria found in the gut. This is designed to improve the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to a shifting microbiome.
Understanding the human gut microbiome (the collection of organisms and their genetic material) is essential for understanding more about metabolic diseases. Various studies indicate that changes to the gut microbiota occur during conditions like obesity, diabetes, and liver diseases. Moreover, there may be connections with cancer and possibly neurodegenerative diseases.
Obtaining samples in ‘real-time’ is not easy; the primary means of assessing the microbiome is via samples of feces, but these do not always give researchers the required information in sufficient detail. This type of analysis cannot provide a sample of the organisms in the upstream of the distal colon, for example.
To make the collection of gut bacteria better, researchers from Tufts University have designed a 3D printed collection pill. The 3D-printed pill is described as a non-invasive diagnostic tool and it can assess microbial populations throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract.
The design of the pill is such that it contains microfluidic channels which can draw samples from different stages of the gastrointestinal tract. The outer surface of the pill is coated with a pH sensitive material, meaning that it will not start to absorb any microbial samples until it enters the small intestine (thereby bypassing the stomach).
The pill consists of a semi-permeable membrane which separates two chambers. The first chamber contains helical channels which take up the bacteria and the second contains a calcium salt-filled chamber. The salt chamber functions to pull the bacteria into the helical channels. A fluorescent dye contained within in the salt chamber helps technologists to locate the pill after it exits the gastrointestinal tract.
The pill, from test runs, has been shown to provide accurate identification of bacterial populations in terms of organism type and it also gives an indication of cell numbers. This is based on tests conducted in pigs and primates. The next phase is to run clinical trials on humans.
The researchers are keen to assess what happens when the natural balance of the microbiome becomes skewed (where "dysbiosis" occurs) and how this relates to inflammation and an exacerbation of other diseases like cancer.
In particular, the researchers are keen to pinpoint specific microbiome metabolites that could have beneficial or protective effects for the host against disease and to use these to develop microbiome replacement therapies.
The research has been published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems. The research paper is titled “Ingestible Osmotic Pill for In‐vivo Sampling of Gut Microbiome.”
More about 3D printing, microbiome, Gut, Medicine
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