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UCSD creates experimental ‘smart pill’ that could help fight inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes


UC San Diego has created an experimental ‘smart pill’ that continuously monitors the inside of the small intestine, work that could lead to better ways to detect and treat gastrointestinal disorders, including diseases inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.

The one-inch-long wireless biosensor was placed in pigs and successfully took real-time glucose readings for periods ranging from two to five hours, according to a UCSD paper just published in the Nature Communications magazine. The data was relayed through the pill’s tiny antenna.

The researchers used pigs because their gastrointestinal tract is similar to that of humans.

The proof-of-concept work was led by engineers from UCSD’s Center for Wearable Sensors, which works extensively on health-related devices.

Researchers will now try to find ways to make the smart pill smaller so that it can be easily swallowed by humans. They will also make it capable of taking a wider variety of readings.

The sensor is meant to be an alternative to the endoscope – a long, thin tube with a camera that is typically threaded through a person’s mouth and throat, down into their digestive tract. It provides limited, short-term insight into a person’s condition.

“Right now, if you have a stomach problem (doctors) can take an x-ray, but that won’t tell you much,” said Patrick Mercier, co-director of the Center for Wearable Sensors. “And they can do an ultrasound.

“But you can’t access the intestine without doing an endoscopy, which means you have to put the patient on. They glue a tube all the way. It is very painful.

“This technology offers a really interesting new way to access this (relatively) inaccessible part of the human body. We could adapt it to measure all sorts of things. If you had acid reflux, we could measure the acid in your stomach in real time. »

UCSD is trying not only to surpass the traditional endoscope, but to improve on so-called capsule endoscopes, ingestible smart pills that take pictures of the digestive tract.

The Mercier Pill is intended to provide a longer, more comprehensive, real-time view of the digestive system. It will also allow scientists to better understand the gut microbiota, which is essential for fighting diseases like diabetes and for metabolizing drugs.


California Daily Newspapers

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