JUN 05, 2018 09:04 AM PDT

Bacteria Capsule Finds Stomach Bleeding, Alerts Smartphone

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

MIT scientists have created an ingestible sensor that holds smart, genetically engineered bacteria. The bacteria is designed to react to bleeding in the stomach, and its low-power sensor can convey this response through an Android app. The team who created the beacon also think it can be used to test for other biomarkers of bodily concern and disease.

MIT Associate Professor Timothy Lu says they have successfully combined “engineered biological sensors together with low-power wireless electronics,” enabling them to provide “near real-time” detection of biological signals for diagnostic functions. The method has been successfully tested on pigs.

Phillip Nadeau with MIT sensor, credit: MIT

“Our idea was to package bacterial cells inside a device. The cells would be trapped and go along for the ride as the device passes through the stomach,” former MIT postdoc Phillip Nadeau says.

How the Sensor Works

Bacteria can be engineered to react to disease markers and other environmental stimuli. For example, they have previously been designed to glow upon contact with the target material. The bacterial cells in this device glow as well -- the difference is that the response can be measured as the sensor moves through the body. In the past, sensor reactions would generally need to measured in a lab.

The new MIT sensor holds the specialized bacteria in wells that are covered by a semipermeable membrane. Molecules from the devices environment, such as a patient’s stomach, enter and affect the bacteria. If it glows, a phototransistor measures the light and communicates the response to a microprocessor or computer processing unit. This data can be conveyed wirelessly to a nearby device like a phone, tablet or computer. An app has been created to deliver and analyze the information.

Sensor Test Results

In the case of measuring stomach bleeding, an engineered probiotic strain of E. coli was used that glows when it encounters heme, an iron-rich compound in blood. This sensor was tested in pigs and was able to correctly identify the presence of blood in the stomach. For future patients, this type of test could help them avoid an endoscopy to look for bleeding. After swallowing the sensor capsule, “within a relatively short period of time, you would know whether or not there was a bleeding event,” Graduate student Mark Mimee says. With further development, the sensor may be used for one-time usage or for a more prolonged period of days or weeks.

The researchers feel the 1.5 inch long prototype sensor can serve as a plug-and-play platform technology that can support many diagnostic applications. They plan to reduce its size and explore how long it could survive in the body. Mimee says:

Most of the work we did in the paper was related to blood, but conceivably you could engineer bacteria to sense anything and produce light in response to that. Anyone who is trying to engineer bacteria to sense a molecule related to disease could slot it into one of those wells, and it would be ready to go.

“An ingestible bacterial-electronic system to monitor gastrointestinal health,” was published in Science in May 2018.


MIT News


About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
You May Also Like
OCT 19, 2019
OCT 19, 2019
Elon Musk showcases advances in elusive Neuralink brain implant
Last week, Elon Musk took the stage in front of an invitation-only crowd at the CaliforniaAcademy of Sciences to unveil his latest foray into connecting br...
OCT 19, 2019
OCT 19, 2019
Motorized prosthetic arm can sense touch, move with your thoughts
Picking up an egg without crushing it seems like an easy task for anyone—but for Keven Walgamott, who lost his left hand and part of his arm from a m...
OCT 19, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 19, 2019
Watch SpaceX Launch a Used Falcon 9 for the Third and Final Time
SpaceX launched one of its tried and true Falcon 9 rockets on Tuesday in a mission that the commercial space company dubbed AMOS-17. The rocket’s nin...
OCT 19, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 19, 2019
Measuring the Heat That Mitochondria Release
Researchers at the University of Illinois developed a minuscule probe that can take the temperature of a cell's interior....
OCT 19, 2019
OCT 19, 2019
Sonar WiFi?
Researchers have attempted to develop a technique that could revolutionize navigation technologies for drones, robots, and even pedestrians trying to find ...
OCT 19, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
OCT 19, 2019
AcroMetrix BCR-ABL External Molecular Panel: An Accurate Testing Method for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia
To support the validation and verification of new assays in oncology testing, Thermo Fisher Scientific with AcroMetrix control products provides innov...
Loading Comments...