A pill from a 3D printer helps to investigate the gut flora

16 Aug 2019 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports

In tv commercials they call it gut flora but scientists rather speak of the microbiome. In both cases they talk about the bacteria that resides in our intestines. We used a newly designed pill which was created with a 3D printer to determine the microbiome from monkeys and pigs.

Over the years the medical interest in the microbiome increased. The bacteria in our gut not only helps us to digest food, they also play an important role in our immune system. A healthy gut contains over a 1000 different species of known bacteria. Just like a fingerprint, each of us has a unique microbiome.

Our microbiome changes over time

In contrast to our fingerprint, the microbiome does not remain the same throughout our lives. The composition of the microbiome is affected by diet, antibiotics, lifestyle and hygiene. These changes sometimes trigger disease but the microbiome can also change as a result of disease. If we want to study this relationship, we need to take samples from the microbiome.

Sampling the microbiome

Everybody knows how to collect a stool sample. But bacteria in stool do not fully represent the microbiome. The human gut measures approximately 255.9 inch (6.5 meters) in length and the bacterial composition is not the same throughout. To get a clear picture of the bacteria that reside in the deeper intestines, scientists of Tufts University in Massachusets developed a special pill printed with a 3D printer.

After being swallowed, the pill follows the exact same route as our food. But instead of being digested the pill takes samples during its trip. It collects bacterial residues from the entire intestines in tiny canals. At the end of the road the pill is defecated and the bacteria can be studied in the lab.

First successes

Scientists at BPRC validated the pill in colaboration with the University of Utrecht and the  Universidade Estadual Paulista. The non-invasive technique was succesfully used to determine the gut flora of monkeys and pigs. In the future we may be able to use the pill to study the microbiome in humans and learn more about the bacterial flora in the gut in relation to diseases.

More information about these exciting developments? Please check Advanced Intelligent Systems.