Ingestible Sensor to Monitor Gut Health Using Genetically Engineered Bacteria

Novel ingestible sensors are equipped with genetically engineered bacteria, which have applications in diagnosis of stomach bleeding and other gastrointestinal disorders

Researchers from MIT developed novel bacteria on a chip system, which comprise genetically engineered bacteria to detect specific molecules placed in four wells of the custom-designed sensor. It is attached to a microprocessor that converts the sensory information to a wireless signal. The research was published in the journal Science in May 2018. As a part of the study, team genetically engineered a probiotic strain of E. coli, which has ability to respond a chemical compound call heme. Heme is found in red-blood cells and it is used as biomarker for detection of internal bleeding. Engineered bacteria emits specific amount of light upon detection of heme.

Furthermore, transport method was developed for bacterial sensors through a body by instantly translating the signals into data. “Our idea was to package bacterial cells inside a device,” said Phillip Nadeau, one of the lead authors on the study. “The cells would be trapped and go along for the ride as the device passes through the stomach.” The entire device fits in a capsule-shaped cylinder about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long. The prototype device was equipped with a 2.7-volt battery, which is estimated to offer 1.5 months use.

However, future iterations could be entirely self-powered, as the same team previously developed a battery-free device that generates electricity from stomach acid. As a result of the study, it was found that, device accurately detected the presence of blood in the stomach of pigs. Furthermore, researchers are working on developing bacterial sensors pointing to other potential future diagnostic uses. Also, they are working on reducing the size of the capsule sensor and examine how long these engineered bacterial cells can survive.

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