A new ‘smart pill’ that can measure internal gasses and report on how food just eaten impacts the gut has just been successfully trialled in pigs by Australian researchers at RMIT University.
The smart pill, which you take orally like any other pill, senses the gasses inside the body when it reaches the gut.
It can then send data about the impact of low and high-fibre foods directly to your mobile phone from the depths of your body.
The hope is that the new technology will enable future 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.
“If you have a healthy body, you have a healthy gut and a healthy profile of gasses in the gut,” said the study’s lead investigator, Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from the Centre for Advanced Electronics and Sensors at RMIT.
"It is the first tool that can tell us if a certain food is good for you."
“These gases are the best biomarkers that tell us if our gut is in a good or bad shape. And this pill measures those biomarkers.”
Professor Kalantar-zadeh says the discovery is a breakthrough in personalised medicine.
“One day we hear that this diet is good for you and the next day we hear how another diet is good for you. But every human body is different so you can’t be sure which one is best for you.
“But this pill could tell us what the most efficient diet is for one single person. It is the first tool that can tell us if a certain food is good for you.
“This pill is the first step in demolishing myths about the way food affects our body so we can replace those myths with hard facts.”
The smart pills were trialled in two groups of pigs – whose digestive systems are similar to humans – fed high and low-fibre diets.
The study’s results, published this week in Gastroenterology, showed that 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
“This was a complete surprise because hydrogen is produced through fermentation, so we naturally expected more fibre would equal more of this fermentation gas.”
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 findings also provide new clues for the development of treatments for gut disorders, with valuable findings on intestinal gases linked to colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Researchers are starting tests of the pill on humans and will finish the initial phase from April.
Professor Kalantar-zadeh says while the human trial phase is being rolled out, a company will also be created in the next few months to commercialise the new pill and make it readily available for sale in Australia.
But, he added, the speed at which the pill gets to market depends on government legislation and regulation.
“It’s safe and user-friendly. I’ve tried it myself and had no problem.
“I really think this pill will be a disruptive game changer and impact the world over the next five years.”
The research was jointly conducted with the Department of Gastroenterology at The Alfred Hospital, Monash University, the University of Melbourne and CSIRO.