Fantastic (intestinal) voyage

Ingestible device samples microbiota of the small intestine

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Stanford Medicine researchers and their collaborators have developed an ingestible device that can document the diversity of microorganisms, viruses, proteins and bile salts in the small intestine.

The proof-of-concept results were published in May 2023 in Nature.

“Samples from current tools don’t fully represent what’s going on inside of us. But it’s all we’ve had — until now,” said KC Huang, PhD, a professor of bioengineering and of microbiology and immunology.

Huang shares senior authorship with David Relman, MD, a professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology.

Other ingestible devices have been invented to sample gut microbiota, but they’ve been loaded with electronics, limiting their widespread use due to manufacturing complexity and cost.

The new device is a hollow capsule enclosing a bladder that sucks in a sample. Various versions of the capsule open at different pH levels. Since the acidity of the small intestine’s contents decreases along the tract, a set of capsules is able to sample an array of the organ’s microenvironments, 

“I think the magic of our capsule is that it is going to transform how people think about the gut microbiota’s relationship to diseases,” Huang said.