Swallowable capsule gathers bacteria from the gut

The bacteria that are present in a person’s gastrointestinal tract can reveal a lot about their health. A newly developed capsule could provide even more information, by gathering bacteria from specific locations within that tract.

Ordinarily, doctors will analyze a patient’s feces to see what sorts of bacteria are living in their digestive system. Unfortunately, though, there’s no way of knowing if those microbes came from the intestine, stomach, rectum, or any other one place. That’s where the orally administered capsule is designed to come in.

Created at Indiana’s Purdue University, it consists mainly of an absorbent hydrogel contained within a resin shell. The chemistry of the cap of that shell can be tuned so that when it’s exposed to the pH of a specific part of the gastrointestinal tract, it dissolves.

Once this happens, the hydrogel draws in digestive fluid that contains bacteria. The gel expands as it does so, pushing up against a plunger-like mechanism within the capsule. That plunger ultimately seals the hole where the cap was, trapping the gathered bacteria within, and keeping more from being absorbed.

The sealed capsule then proceeds to travel through the rest of the digestive system, eventually being passed along with the feces. It’s then retrieved, and the gel is pulled out and analyzed to see which bacteria are present. Each capsule is used only once, and should cost about a dollar to manufacture.

The hydrogel gets removed for analysis
The hydrogel gets removed for analysis

Purdue University/Mark Simons

Plans call for the technology to be tested on pigs, before moving on to human trials.

“This approach is providing new opportunities to study what type of bacteria are present in the gut,” says the lead scientist, Asst. Prof. Rahim Rahimi. “It would help us figure out how to manipulate these bacteria to combat disease.”

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal RSC Advances. And for another example of a gut bacteria-gathering capsule – that takes a somewhat different approach to the job – check out the one being developed at Tufts University.

Source: Purdue University

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