A new ‘smart pill’ could offer hope to thousands of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by delivering accurate information about the gut.
The capsule is swallowed and travels through the system analysing details such as how quickly food moves along the colon, acidity, pressure and temperature.
This is relayed to a monitor worn on the patient’s waist for several days as they go about their daily activities.
Experts hope the pill will lead to much more accurate treatment for people with IBS and other long-term unexplained but frequently painful digestive problems.
Doctors at the private Princess Grace Hospital in central London have become the first in Europe to use the SmartPill.
While other swallowed devices can take images of a patient’s gut, this is the first to assess information on how it is functioning.
Gastro-physiologist Dr Anthony Hobson said the clinic sees patients who have been consulting NHS doctors for years but who have not always experienced an improvement in their condition.
‘There is such a big proportion of the population who are suffering in this way but now we have a proven and excellent procedure that can give us important information from the whole gut very quickly and conveniently,” he said.
‘This is a real breakthrough and gives many people real hope of a better quality of life by obtaining a more definitive diagnosis.
‘The capsule is fairly unique in the way it works. Camera-based pills are good for looking at things like inflammation or blockages but this pill tells us about the function of the gut.
‘We are looking at how the gut works and empties, and for the first time we are able to look at the different components of the gut.
‘This is really the first ingestible telemetric device that tells us anything about gut function.’
Dr Hobson said the term IBS is rarely used in his clinic.
‘It’s a term that people and GPs use to put a label on something,’ he said.
‘But quite often, with more detailed investigations, we can find what’s going on.’
The pill can also avoid the need for other invasive tests, such as a tube down the throat.
‘The problem we have is that by the time we see patients, they have been to see their GP, they have seen a gastroenterologist and have tried different types of medication or lifestyle changes,’ Dr Hobson said.
‘But they are not looked at in terms of their whole gut.
‘What we aim to show through this test is how the whole gut is working so things can be targeted more effectively.
‘There are a range of different drugs to treat each part of the gut. This detailed information will hopefully help target therapy more accurately.’
Elizabeth Lynch, from Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, has suffered from bloating, pain and other problems for more than 10 years and is thought to be the first UK patient to try the pill.
She said: ‘I felt full up as soon as I began to eat and I would swell up quickly. It was as if you had a solid brick inside you and a tight belt around you.
‘The pain was awful and I simply could not lead a normal life. It was impossible to eat normally.’
The SmartPill was able to rule out a range of potential problems of gut transit and helped doctors identify that Ms Lynch was suffering from an allergy or food intolerance type of condition.
‘What it showed was that my system was working within the normal range and that gave a clue about a new form of treatment which has helped me a great deal,’ she said.
‘I am now feeling a lot better and it meant I didn’t have to undergo another unpleasant endoscopy investigation.’
The SmartPill GI Monitoring System at the Princess Grace costs £1,750, including all consultation fees.