In a ground-breaking development, Australian company Atmo Biosciences is spearheading the creation of a smart gas-sensing capsule that holds the promise of transforming the diagnosis and treatment of bowel syndromes.
From irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), millions of patients down under – and hundreds of millions around the world – are forced to manage symptoms for years before they finally get a diagnosis, if they even get one at all. There are a number of diagnostic challenges due to the often varied and nonspecific symptoms like gut pain, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, fatigue and weight loss. Your typical SIBO breath test is one of the current measures used to diagnose an imbalance, and while it has its many benefits, some research shows nearly 5% of tests to produce incorrect results. These breath tests detect hydrogen and methane gases as they’re often produced by bacterial imbalances in the gut or problems digesting carbs.
Engineer and CEO of Atmo Biosciences, Mal Hebblewhite, tells us the Australian Department of Health the current diagnostic tools just aren’t cutting it.
“The gut is a 9-metre-long tube,” Mal says. “With a breath test it's difficult to know where those gases are coming from.”
Outside of breath tests, diagnosing these syndromes has often required invasive and hard-to-interpret methods, like sedating patients for endoscopic procedures to examine the gut, a process prone to contamination.
Enter the Atmo Gas Capsule, a device designed to provide a more accurate and less invasive alternative for diagnosing bowel syndromes. Patients swallow the smart capsule, which traverses the digestive tract, measuring hydrogen and carbon dioxide levels at different sections of the gut. Early research indicates that the capsule is nearly twice as accurate as traditional breath tests in diagnosing SIBO – while it’s certainly not perfect, it is a promising improvement in the area. Mal says trials have found the capsule was able to show the changes occurring in the gases in patients.
“There was a shift in the location and the degree of fermentation around the colon,” Mal says. “This is useful for dieticians and doctors who are trying to reduce IBS symptoms.”
One of the key advantages of the Atmo Gas Capsule is its ability to measure the speed at which food travels through the digestive system. By recording the capsule's journey through the gut and exit from the body, the device offers valuable insights into food transit disorders associated with IBS and SIBO – that’s a lot more than what a breath test can tell us!
SIBO is a condition affecting the small intestine, characterised by an overgrowth of bacteria – and these usually the kinds of bacteria that should be in other parts of our gut instead. Often time, a few simple lifestyle changes can be enough to reduce the symptoms.
This condition often comes about after another illness, or even a surgery, affects the intestines and causes food to move at a slower pace through the gut. It can also slow the movement of waste, which creates a welcoming environment for a host of bacteria. These then overwhelm the small intestine, leading to some distressing symptoms which come with the territory. They include frequent diarrhoea, unwanted weight loss, malnourishment and dehydration, along with inhibiting our body from absorbing the much-needed nutrients in our food. Let’s take a look at some of the risk factors:
- Older age: As you get older, your body produces less gastric acid – this is essential for processing food – making you more vulnerable to digestive issues. But we’re seeing more and more young people presenting with the disease – often as a result of ultra-processed diets and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Intestine shape: Some people have an abnormally-shaped small intestine – this can make the food move through your gut at a slower pace, giving unwanted bacteria a chance to populate your small intestine.
- Conditions:Fatty liver disease, type 1 and 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease have all been considered as risk factors in a number of studies.
The signs of SIBO:
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea and abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Uncomfortable fullness after meals
- Improper absorption of nutrients
No, the capsule isn’t on the market yet – Atmo Biosciences is still testing the safety and effectiveness through this trial, with plans to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for market release in the United States. Only time will tell if this new solution is set to change the game, but with 30% of Aussies suffering from IBS, 20% living with chronic constipation and around 15% dealing with SIBO, there are millions set to benefit from earlier diagnosis – and therefore better results.
Looking ahead, the Atmo Gas Capsule holds the potential to not only revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of bowel syndromes but also deepen our understanding of the gut microbiome's role in immune system function and brain health. As this smart capsule paves the way for a new era in gastrointestinal health, its impact is poised to extend beyond immediate diagnostic benefits, ushering in a comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationship between our gut and overall health.
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