Scientists have successfully completed the first human trials of an ingestible capsule that can monitor gases in the gut in real time, potentially revolutionising the way stomach and colon disorders are diagnosed.
The capsule can uncover mechanisms in the body that have never been seen before, including a potentially new immune system, researchers said.
The new technology is a game-changer for the one-in-five people worldwide who will suffer from a gastrointestinal disorder in their lifetime. They could also lead to fewer invasive procedures like colonoscopies, they said.
The ingestible capsule developed by researchers at RMIT University in Australia detects and measures gut gases - hydrogen, carbon dioxides and oxygen - in real time. This data can be sent to a mobile phone.
"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," said Kourosh Kalantar- zadeh, from RMIT University.
"This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before," said Kalantar-zadeh, co-inventor of the capsule.
Another never before seen observation from the trial was that the colon may contain oxygen.
"Trials showed the presence of high concentrations of oxygen in the colon under an extremely high-fibre diet," Kalantar-zadeh said.
"This contradicts the old belief that the colon is always oxygen free. This new information could help us better understand how debilitating diseases like colon cancer occur," he said.
The trials were conducted on seven healthy individuals on low- and high-fibre diets.
Results showed that the capsule accurately shows the onset of food fermentation, highlighting their potential to clinically monitor digestion and normal gut health.
The trials also demonstrated that the capsule could offer a much more effective way of measuring microbiome activities in the stomach, a critical way of determining gut health.
"Previously, we have had to rely on faecal samples or surgery to sample and analyse microbes in the gut," Kalantar- zadeh said.
"But this meant measuring them when they are not a true reflection of the gut microbiota at that time. Our capsule will offer a non-invasive method to measure microbiome activity," he said.