A smart gas-sensing capsule invented in Australia could soon help people living with bowel syndromes

Doctors could soon use the smart Atmo Gas Capsule to diagnose and treat bowel syndromes, replacing invasive or hard to interpret methods. The Australian company Atmo Biosciences is developing and marketing this new device.

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General public

Bowel syndromes are hard to diagnose and treat

Bowel syndromes can cause symptoms like gut pain, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, fatigue and weight loss. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can both cause these symptoms. But the symptoms are not specific to IBS and SIBO. That makes these syndromes hard to diagnose and treat.

Current tests are invasive and hard to interpret

Doctors use tests to rule out other disorders before diagnosing IBS and SIBO. But current tests are invasive and hard to interpret. Doctors must sedate patients to insert an endoscope to look at their gut. Samples collected this way can be easily contaminated.

Breath tests detect hydrogen and methane gases produced by too many bacteria in the gut or problems digesting carbs. But as engineer Mal Hebblewhite, CEO of Atmo Biosciences, tells us, ‘the gut is a 9-metre-long tube. With a breath test it's difficult to know where those gases are coming from.’

The Atmo Gas Capsule measures gases in the gut

This is where the Atmo Gas Capsule could help. Patients swallow the capsule and it passes through their gut. Along the way it measures the amount of hydrogen and carbon dioxide in different sections of the gut. Early research shows the capsule is almost 2 times more accurate than breath tests for diagnosing SIBO.

Measuring the speed food transits through the gut

The Atmo Gas Capsule also measures the speed food transits through the gut. The capsule records the time it is swallowed, enters different sections of the gut, and exits the body. This data can help doctors diagnose food transit disorders associated with IBS and SIBO.

Comparing the Atmo Gas Capsule to the SmartPill

In the United States, there is another device already on the market that measures food transit time, Medtronic’s SmartPill. A study comparing the devices shows when patients swallow both capsules, their data agrees.

Applying for approval to sell the capsule

Mal has started a pivotal clinical trial comparing the 2 devices in 120 subjects in the United States and Australia. The trial aims to confirm the Atmo capsule is safe and effective. Mal will submit this data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to market the capsule in the United States.

This approach is a common marketing pathway for new Australian medical devices. Mal aims to sell the capsule in larger markets first. He will then apply to Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval to sell it in Australia.

Using the capsule to assess dietary changes

Mal is also using the capsule to assess dietary changes that can affect each patient differently. In a recent study, researchers gave different types of dietary fibre to people with IBS.

As patients digested the different fibres the capsule showed changes in the gases produced. ‘There was a shift in the location and the degree of fermentation around the colon,‘ Mal explains. ‘This is useful for dietitians and doctors who are trying to reduce IBS symptoms.’

Understanding the bacteria living in our gut

Beyond IBS and SIBO, the Atmo Gas Capsule could help us understand more about the bacteria living in our gut, called the gut microbiome. ‘The capsule could help doctors explore how the microbiome affects the immune system and the brain,’ Mal tells us.

Helping Atmo Biosciences raise private funds

Atmo Biosciences is developing the capsule with help from 2 MRFF funded programs. Grants from MTPConnect’s BioMedTech Horizons program in 2020 and 2023 totalled $963,310. ANDHealth selected the company for the ANDHEALTH+ digital health program in 2017 and 2023.

‘This kind of funding provides a company like us with more credibility,’ Mal says. ‘It improves my ability to raise funds through private sources.’

In 2023 Mal raised $8 million from existing and new shareholders. This was his 4th successful private funding round for developing and marketing the capsule.

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