NYU Abu Dhabi researchers develop the first-ever ingestible electroceutical device to control appetite by hormone modulation
Abu Dhabi, UAE – A team of researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), led by Professor Khalil Ramadi, Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Neuroengineering and Translational Medicine, have developed a first-of-its-kind ingestible electroceutical device for the neuromodulation of the gut-brain axis, the signaling pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system. The ingestible capsule is a non-invasive and precise method that could be used to modulate hunger levels and treat metabolic and neurologic diseases. This was developed in collaboration with Professor Giovanni Traverso of MIT, who is a joint senior author of the study and James McRae, a graduate student at MIT, who is first co-author of the paper published in the journal Science Robotics.
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 behavior. The existing pharmaceutical and surgical methods to modulate the axis, including implanting electrodes through surgery, are imprecise, 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,” said 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.”
About NYU Abu Dhabi
NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective program with majors in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, arts, and humanities with a world center for advanced research. Its campus enables students to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world, and to advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from some 125 countries and speak over 100 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.