Abu Dhabi: NYU Abu Dhabi researchers, led by Professor Mr. Khalil Ramadi, have created a groundbreaking ingestible electroceutical device that modulates the gut-brain axis, the connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract.
This non-invasive and precise capsule could revolutionize the treatment of metabolic and neurological illnesses by regulating hunger levels. The research was conducted in partnership with Professor Mr. Giovanni Traverso of MIT and published in the journal Science Robotics, with Mr. James McRae as the first co-author.
The FLASH system utilizes electrodes on its surface to deliver electrical stimulation to stomach mucosal tissue. The gut-brain axis regulates several physiological functions, including feeding and emotional behaviour. The existing pharmaceutical and surgical methods to modulate the axis, including implanting electrodes through surgery, are imprecise, and invasive, and have been associated with significant recovery periods and associated risks.
Inspired by the water-wicking skin of Moloch horridus, the Australian thorny devil lizard, FLASH features a fluid-wicking capsule coating with grooved patterns and a hydrophilic (water-compatible) surface, enabling them to bypass the gastric fluid in the stomach and achieve direct electrode-tissue contact.
Gastric electrical stimulation (GES) directly induces the release of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, from the gastric mucosa through endoscopic stimulation. Oral ingestion of the FLASH capsule was shown to modulate levels of the ghrelin hormone significantly and repeatedly.
In the paper titled Bioinspired, fluid-wicking, ingestible electroceutical capsules for hunger-regulating hormone modulation published today, the researchers report the process of developing the FLASH capsules, which are swallowed, deliver stimulation to the stomach, and then excreted safely. The capsules are powered by ingestible batteries, which were shown to deliver stimulation for 20 minutes, and then be excreted within two weeks of ingestion in large animals.
Current hormone medications have poor bioavailability when taken orally. This is why medications such as insulin need to be injected. FLASH can be taken orally to specifically target gastric neurohormonal circuits and modulate hormone levels in the blood. It is anticipated that this device could be used for a range of applications to treat metabolic, feeding, gastrointestinal and neuropsychiatric disorders non-invasively, and with minimal off-target effects.
“Electroceuticals, or electrical stimulation therapies, have emerged as the next frontier of neuromodulation,” stated Mr. Ramadi.
“FLASH is one of the first ingestible electroceutical that can regulate precise neurohormonal circuits, while avoiding the discomfort patients can experience with invasive treatments. Future ingestible electroceutical systems could be designed and customized for specific applications beyond acute, short-term gastric stimulation,” the Professor further added.