The diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders has been greatly improved by the SmartPill, an ingestible diagnostic sensing capsule that travels every inch of the 30-foot-long human GI tract while making and recording key measurements.
After patients swallow the SmartPill, which is slightly larger than a multivitamin, they go about their normal routines as the device travels through their digestive system, continuously relaying information on temperature, pH, pressure and transit time to a compact monitor worn on the belt.
After one or two days, the capsule is excreted, patients return the monitor to their physician and specialized software generates a detailed report on the GI system’s functioning.
“It’s a very elegant solution,” says David L. Barthel, president and CEO of The SmartPill Corp., the medical device company on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that developed the capsule. “Standard methods of examining the GI tract have such negative implications that they put people off. Patients haven’t wanted to go through the procedures, so they often suffer in silence.”
One such condition that is believed to affect three million Americans severely enough to require hospitalization is called gastroparesis—the inability of the stomach to empty. Common causes for the condition include diabetes and obesity; however, in up to 40 percent of the cases, the etiology remains unknown.
Michael D. Sitrin, MD, professor of medicine at UB and chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, co-directed the seven-site clinical trial of the SmartPill. “What we know about the motility of the GI tract has been coming from situations where it is very difficult to do research. You have patients sitting there for a short period of time with tubes down them—a very artificial situation.
“This new method gives you a chance to get some of these measurements in people who are in a much more natural situation. It really represents a new step forward.”
In 2006, the SmartPill received approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Three years later, it was highlighted in a Forbes magazine story on cutting-edge life-saving technologies.