Could a robotic pill be the answer to managing our gut health?

2 mins
29 Sep 2022
Could a robotic pill be the answer to managing our gut health?

Yakult found quaking: A PhD student has created a prototype that may well make probiotics drinks obsolete

words Lucy O'Brien

Whether or not you think much about your gut, you’ve more than likely seen advice videos and biome hacks plastered across your TikTok FYP. We can confidently tell you not to take these videos too seriously (we should know, we even asked a dietician) but we are willing to bank on what scientists are doing to transform gut health.

In a move that sounds like it's from a sci-fi film, scientific engineers are now taking on the challenge of producing an ingestible robotic pill that could change gut health treatment forever. If successful, the capsule should be able to collect samples from our gut in order to discover and identify different microorganisms. More accurate diagnoses of the bacteria living in our bodies can lead to better diagnosis, and therefore more informed advice on treatments or changes in nutrition. In short, this should hopefully put the end to just chugging probiotic yoghurt drinks and hoping for the best!

Hailing from Massey University, New Zealand, PHD student Muhammad Rehan began developing this gut capsule for his thesis. But what has started out as an academic project could manifest into the next scientific innovation. Muhammad has now submitted his thesis, and has put his invention before his University’s ethics board for review.

The capsule, which is the size of a large pill, would travel through the gut after being swallowed, and retrieved through - you guessed it - faeces.

“In the human guts we have a huge population of microorganisms [and] they have different roles and attributes and functions,” Rehan told Stuff. He hopes his prototype will pave the way for wider use of medical robotics in healthcare, adding that “these microorganisms can act as biomarkers and you can use it for an early diagnosis for things like cancer and diabetes.”

Turns out it’s not too outrageous an aspiration. Rehan has already been shortlisted as a finalist in the momentum student entrepreneur category in the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards, a ceremony that recognises successful student projects that have received commercial interest and highlights the forward-thinkers of tomorrow.

Rehan isn't the only one exploring the potential of robotic pills. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have even developed a drug-carrying capsule called RoboCap that can burrow through mucus in the small intestine in order to allow injection-only drugs like insulin to be ingested orally.

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