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Gut Probe in a Pill

MIT Technology Review invited Bill Gates as their first guest curator of its 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2019. One of the most prominent inventions is a device that acts as a gut probe but in the form of a pill.

This device is small and swallowable. Therefore, it makes it much easier to screen detailed images of the gut and study gut diseases without anesthesia. It aids medical workers in diagnosis and treatment. Although it’s still relatively new, it has already been used in adults – testing for infants is likely to begin in late 2019.

Developed by Guillermo Tearney, a pathologist and engineer at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the device can inspect the gut for various diseases such as Barrett’s esophagus. Notably, it can detect signs of EED (environmental enteric dysfunction), which is a costly gut disease that is widespread amongst poorer countries. It’s one of the main reasons many people are malnourished and have developmental delays, as the inflamed intestines are unable to absorb the necessary nutrients effectively.

How It Works

The pill is made of two types of hydrogels, one of which is water. Therefore, it inflates up to about 100 times its original size in the stomach without reacting to its acidic environment. The capsule contains miniature microscopes and ingestible sensors with flexible tether that provides light. The images are sent to a console with a monitor, so the pill can be controlled to specific areas to study. Additional technologies can be added to the capsule – for example, cameras that capture images at the resolution of one cell or even 3D images via cross sections. Other sensors include pH sensors or bacteria/virus sensors. Moreover, the device can be reused after sterilisation.

Healthcare workers regard this invention as a breakthrough because often, it’s much harder to diagnose and study illnesses in the guts of young children. Before this device was developed, an endoscope was inserted down the throat.This method of screening is extremely expensive and uncomfortable; it also requires the use of anesthesia. Most importantly though, this was not practical in most areas of the world where gut diseases are big issues. Thus, this invention revolutionised healthcare incredibly.


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Written by Nichapatr (Petch) Lomtakul


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