MIT’s New Bacteria-on-a-Chip to Diagnose Disease


Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come up with an ingestible bacteria-on-a-chip sensor that can diagnose bleeding in the stomach or other gastrointestinal problems.

All about the bacteria-on-a-chip

To make this sensor, scientists have combined sensors made from living cells with ultra-low power electronics that converts the bacterial response into a wireless signal that can be read by a smartphone.

The bacteria are placed into four wells on the custom-designed sensor and covered by a semipermeable membrane allowing molecules from the surrounding environment to diffuse through. The phototransistor is placed underneath the membrane which measures the light produced by bacterial cells. It relays information to a microprocessor which in turn sends a wireless signal to the nearby computer or smartphone. They have also designed an Android app to analyse the data.

The researchers have tested their device in pigs and showed that it could correctly determine the presence of blood in the stomach. They anticipate that this type of sensor could be either deployed for one-time use or designed to remain in the digestive tract for several days sending continuous signals.

Currently, to determine bleeding from a gastric ulcer, a patient has to undergo an endoscopy to diagnose the problem but this new sensor can end this procedure. Now the next challenge for researchers is to reduce the size of the sensor and study how long the bacteria cells can survive in the digestive tract. They also hope to develop sensors for gastrointestinal conditions other than bleeding.

Researchers mostly worked with techniques to detect blood, however, the bacterias can be engineered to sense anything and produce light in response to that. The researchers said that the sensors could be designed to carry multiple strains of bacteria allowing them to diagnose various conditions. By increasing the number of detection sites, more parameters can be analysed in parallel for high-throughput screening.