Australian researchers invent “smart pill” to match digestive condition and foods

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 13th January 2016

PillsResearchers from RMIT, Monash and Melbourne universities have been trialling a “smart pill” which they hope will help those who experience digestive disorders.


The smart pill has been designed to measure intestinal gases inside of the human body. Intestinal gases have been linked to colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) but their role in health is poorly understood and there is currently no easy and reliable tool for detecting them inside the gut.


Once the smart pill is ingested however, it can send data from inside the gut directly to any mobile phone. In testing the pill, lead researcher Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh from RMIT University said his team were already able to measure the impacts of both low and high fibre diets.


“We found a low-fibre diet produced four times more hydrogen in the small intestine than a high-fibre diet,” Kalantar-zadeh said.


“This was a complete surprise because hydrogen is produced through fermentation, so we naturally expected more fibre would equal more of this fermentation gas,” he said.


“The smart pills allow us to identify precisely where the gases are produced and help us understand the microbial activity in these areas – it’s the first step in demolishing the myths of food effects on our body and replacing those myths with hard facts,” Kalantar-zadeh continued.


“We hope this technology will in future enable researchers to design personalised diets or drugs that can efficiently target problem areas in the gut, to help the millions of people worldwide that are affected by digestive disorders and diseases,” he said.


Already demystifying IBS 


The smart pills were trialled on two groups of pigs – whose digestive systems are similar to humans – fed high and low-fibre diets. The results indicate the technology could help doctors differentiate gut disorders such as IBS, showing:


  • High-fibre diets produce more methane gas in the large intestine than the low-fibre diet, suggesting that painful gut gas retention could be avoided by cutting back on high-fibre food


  • Low-fibre diets produced four times more hydrogen gas in the small intestine than high-fibre, indicating a high-fibre regimen could be better for patients with IBS caused by bacterial overgrowth in small intestine


  • The ratio of carbon dioxide and methane gases remained the same in the large intestine for both diets, suggesting that neither diet would be helpful for people suffering IBS diseases associated with excess methane concentration


The research, jointly conducted with the Department of Gastroenterology at The Alfred Hospital, RMIT University, Monash University, the University of Melbourne and CSIRO, is published in the January edition of Gastroenterology journal.