Sensors For Gastrointestinal Health

Researchers at the University of California San Diego Center for Wearable Sensors have created a self-powered sensor to monitor metabolites in the small intestine. The sensor could potentially help with gastrointestinal health, nutrition, diagnosis and treatment of disease. as well as obesity prevention. 

“In our experiments, the battery-free biosensor technology continuously monitored glucose levels in the small intestines of pigs 14 hours after ingestion, yielding measurements every five  seconds for two to five hours,” Ernesto De La Paz Andres, a nanoengineering student at UC San Diego and a co-first author of the study said. “Our next step is to reduce the size of the pills from the current 2.6 cm in length so they will be easier for human subjects to swallow.”

The sensor is powered by a non-toxic fuel cell that runs on glucose, is pill shaped, and ingestible. Upon ingestion, it enables the monitoring of metabolites and glucose in real time, while also being a more comfortable examination for patients than the standard methodologies currently in use.

“Currently, the way to sample fluid inside the stomach and intestines is to do an endoscopy, where a catheter is inserted down your throat and into your GI tract by a doctor,” said Patrick Mercier, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego who – with nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang – led the team. “By combining the ultra-low-power circuit and wireless technologies from my lab with glucose-powered fuel cell and cutting-edge electrochemical sensing from the lab of UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang, we have an opportunity to create new modalities for understanding what is happening in the small intestine.” 

The paper “A self-powered ingestible wireless biosensing system for real-time in-situ monitoring of gastrointestinal tract metabolites” appears in the December issue of the journal Nature Communications.