A smart pill that can measure important health parameters and inflammation in your intestines. It sounds futuristic, but with the development of a new technology, OnePlanet Research Center is bringing this vision a lot closer. And that means: new opportunities for improving gut health and overall wellbeing.
What if… you could monitor and improve your gut, and overall health and wellbeing by taking a small pill?
The “Ingestible” is a small pill that contains sensors that allow you to explore the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, an environment that is otherwise almost inaccessible. This makes intestinal examination a lot easier and more pleasant. The patient does not have to go to the hospital for an examination, but can simply take the pill at home. Healthcare staff collects and analyzes the data remotely.
Recordable sensors in the pill monitor early disease markers or locally take samples for later offline analysis of gut health. The resulting data serves as input for very personal feedback on nutrition and lifestyle or as an early warning. By supplementing this data with other data, for example from smart toilets that measure health parameters and biomarkers in faeces and urine, it is even possible to make a virtual model of that person. Such “digital twins” can predict personalized effects of nutrition on a person’s health.
You are what you eat
That personal feedback about nutrition and lifestyle is important, because nutrition strongly influences gut health. An unhealthy diet can be a major contributor to gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and metabolic syndrome (MS). MS is a low-inflammatory disease associated with chronic conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, our eating habits and food choices are essential for maintaining our health and crucial for patients with metabolic disorders.
Smart pills packed with smart technology
Developing smart pills for detection and sampling in the gut is a challenge. Firstly, for the product to be ingested, it must be very small for comfort and safety. The proposed range of detection options in the gut in such a form factor has not yet been achieved. The intestines and especially the stomach provide a challenging environment that any sensor can affect in its journey through the gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, locating the sensor in such a complex organ is not trivial – because we have neither a “map” of a person’s gastrointestinal tract, nor a “GPS”. Also, taking back the pill (if necessary) still requires an elegant solution. We also see a number of challenges related to the development of new sensors, how to communicate with sensors, how to feed the smart pill, etc.
In this project, OnePlanet is developing a completely new technology that can lead to far-reaching innovations in healthcare. It does this in various sub-projects, for example aimed at the development of highly miniaturized sensors and their integration in a smart pill. The research team will also develop special chips to communicate with the sensors. Studies will be developed with which it can further demonstrate the quality of the sensor. The first pill to be used in pilots is already planned for the end of 2021. Sometimes the future is really around the corner!
This innovation project fits within the health and nutrition domain. Imec has a lot of experience with sensors and wearables, Wageningen University & Research brings knowledge in the field of nutrition and chemistry, Radboud University provides knowledge of chemistry and physics and at Radboudumc we work together with gastroenterologists.