Tuesday December 11, 2018
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From Radio Signals A Pill Could Tell About Gut Health And Help Doctors

Scientists developed a swallowable capsule to detect bleeding in the digestive tract.

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MIT engineers have designed an ingestable sensor with bacteria programmed to sense environmental conditions and relay the information to an electronic circuit.
MIT engineers have designed an ingestable sensor with bacteria programmed to sense environmental conditions and relay the information to an electronic circuit. VOA
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A pill could soon radio signals from inside your gut to help doctors diagnose diseases from ulcers to cancer to inflammation, according to a new study.

Scientists have developed a small, swallowable capsule that mixes synthetic biology and electronics to detect bleeding in the digestive tract.

The system can be adapted for a wide range of medical, environmental and other uses, the researchers say.

The biological part of the pill uses bacteria engineered to glow when exposed to heme, the iron-containing molecule in blood.

The electronic side includes a tiny light detector, computer, chip, battery, and a transmitter that sends data to a cell phone or computer.

“A major challenge for sensing in the GI tract is, the space available for a device is very limited,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology electrical engineer Phillip Nadeau.

Using very low-power electronics they designed, Nadeau and colleagues fit all the components into a capsule about 3 centimeters long by 1 centimeter wide.

A Microbiologist scientist
A Microbiologist scientist, Pixabay

It’s still a bit big to swallow. But Nadeau says with engineering work it can likely be made about a third that size.

The engineered bacteria are contained in chambers covered by a membrane that lets small molecules in but does not let the organisms out. The researchers say the bacteria can be engineered to die if they accidentally leak from the capsule. Or future models may just use the key enzymes, rather than whole bacteria.

In laboratory tests, the pill successfully distinguished pigs fed small amounts of blood from those not given blood. The capsule has not yet been tested on humans. The team aims to do so in the next year or two.

Since the components are all fairly cheap to manufacture, the researchers speculate that the cost would be in the range of tens to hundreds of dollars.

And they say the same platform could be used to detect markers of a range of illnesses. Or, it could be used to sense chemicals in the environment.

“It’s really exciting, and I think it’s got a lot of legs,” said Rice University bioengineer Jeff Tabor, who was not part of the research team.

But Tabor notes that the sensors may need to be much more sensitive than what was used in the pig tests. He says there may be much less blood in the guts of actual patients than what the pigs were given. Other conditions may have the same limitations.

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“For many actual diseases, you might have far less of the molecule that you need to sense available to you,” he added. (VOA)

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Robots May Be Able to Perform C-Sections Soon

These big, set-piece operations will become less common as we are able to intervene earlier and use more moderate interventions

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C-section, Robots
A newborn, one of 12 babies born by C-section, cries inside an incubator at the Bunda Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 12, 2012. VOA

Robotics are expected to become so sophisticated, hospitals may not need surgeons. Controlled by healthcare assistants, the machines will soon be delivering babies by carrying out C-sections as well as other surgeries, say experts.

The predictions are based on the report by the “Commission on the Future of Surgery” set up by the Royal College of Surgeons in 2017, the Daily Mail reported.

According to the report, the robots controlled by healthcare assistants such as technicians are expected to conduct vaginal surgeries and operations on the bowel, heart and lungs.

This will help advance diagnoses of illnesses like cancer before they destroy organs and, as a result, operations will be smaller in scale and less traumatic.

Robot, Reading Companion
FILE – A visitor shakes hands with a humanoid robot at 2018 China International Robot Show in Shanghai (VOA)

Even healthcare assistants — who do not need any formal qualifications to get a job — could one day be trained to perform C-sections with the robots, The Telegraph reported.

Specialists and surgeons will remain in charge of operations but may not always need to be in the room.

“This is always going to be under the watchful eye and careful supervision of a surgeon,” Richard Kerr, neurosurgeon at the Oxford University and Chair of the commission, was quoted as saying.

“These are highly qualified healthcare professionals and they will be trained in a specific aspect of that procedure.

“The changes are expected to affect every type of operation. This will be a watershed moment in surgery,” Kerr said.

While some applications of robots and DNA-based medicines are expected to happen sooner than others, those with healthcare assistant-led C-sections is possible within five years, the report said.

C-section, Robots
These are highly qualified healthcare professionals and they will be trained in a specific aspect of that procedure. Flickr

However, the experts warn that the use of robots in surgery could be controversial. This is in light of an investigation which revealed that a 69-year-old man in Newcastle died when a robot was used to carry out his heart surgery in 2015.

The commission’s report also claims that major cancer operations could become a thing of past because screening DNA will pick up diseases earlier, before they ravage the body.

Also Read: AI  to Help the Students of Japan in Enhancing English Speaking Skills

Similarly, people with severe forms of arthritis could be identified early on and faster treatment might reduce the need for major hip and knee replacement ops.

“These big, set-piece operations will become less common as we are able to intervene earlier and use more moderate interventions,” said Professor Dion Mortonm, a member of the commission. (IANS)