The ingestible capsule, the size of a vitamin pill, detects and measures gut gases — hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen — in real time.
The first human trials were recently conducted by researchers at RMIT in Melbourne on seven healthy individuals on low- and high-fibre diets.
According to the results, the capsule accurately shows the onset of food fermentation, highlighting its potential to clinically monitor digestion and normal gut health.
The paper stated: "Our gas capsule offers an accurate and safe tool for monitoring the effects of diet of individuals, and has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool for the gut."
Lead author Professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh told us the devices could help provide a wealth of vital, new information.
"Previously, to access microbiome samples of these important segments of the gut, a biopsy or the insertion of long tubings were needed. Furthermore, faecal sample microbiomes are not of great value for analysis.
"With this capsule, we can assess the activity of microbiome, based on the intensity of food fermentation, at different locations of the gut. Our capsule will offer a non-invasive method to measure microbiome activity."
He added that the capsule can tell researchers which probiotic, prebiotic or diet has the strongest impact and in which location of an individual's gut.
"The capsule is a tool that has not existed before and will create an incredible set of data for understanding the effect of diet and functional foods on the human body.
"With reference to the gut disorders, the first act of intervention by gastroenterologists and food scientists is to change the diet, and this tool will provide information about the effect of the altered diet.
“We can make the quality of lives of people much better by giving them information about diet-generated gut disorders such as bloating, vomiting and diarrhoea."
Professor Kalantar-Zadeh added that the trials revealed a number of novel findings, including that the stomach uses an oxidiser to fight foreign bodies in the gut.
"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.
"This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before."
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."
Now that the capsule has successfully passed human trials, the research team is seeking to commercialise the technology.
Co-inventor Dr Kyle Berean said: "The trials show that the capsules are perfectly safe, with no retention.
"Our ingestible sensors offer a potential diagnostic tool for many disorders of the gut, from food nutrient malabsorption to colon cancer. It is good news that a less invasive procedure will now be an option for so many people in the future.
"We have partnered with Planet Innovation to establish a company called Atmo Biosiences and bring the product to market.
"This will lead to Phase II human trials, and help raise the funds needed to place this safe and revolutionary gut monitoring and diagnostic device into the hands of patients and medical professionals."
The trials were conducted with colleagues from Monash University.
Source: Nature Electronics
"A human pilot trial of ingestible electronic capsules capable of sensing different gases in the gut"
Authors: Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, et al.