FLASH capsules: the first ingestible electroceutical to control appetite through hormonal modulation

Ingestible electroceutic device to control appetite by hormonal modulation

Researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi have developed an ingestible electroceutic device, called the FLASH system, that modulates the gut-brain axis, influencing hunger levels and potentially treating a range of ailments. Inspired by the skin of Australian Thorny Devil lizards, the device uses a fluid-absorbing capsule to deliver electrical stimulation to stomach tissue, affecting the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin. Credit: NYU Abu Dhabi

Inspired by the breathable skin of the Australian thorny devil lizard, FLASH capsules can connect directly to stomach tissue to modulate hunger-triggering hormones.

A team of researchers from NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), led by Professor Khalil Ramadi, director of the Laboratory of Advanced Neuroengineering and Translational Medicine, has developed a first-of-its-kind ingestible electroceutic device for neuromodulation of the gut-brain axis, the pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the 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 neurological diseases. This was developed in collaboration with Professor Giovanni Traverso of[{” attribute=””>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.

Ingestible Electroceutical Capsule

Credit: Giancarlo Traverso (GT Reel Productions)

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.

Electroceuticals, or electrical stimulation therapies, have emerged as the next frontier of neuromodulation. 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.
Professor Khalil Ramadi, Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Neuroengineering and Translational Medicine

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 on April 26, 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.

Here the authors describe the development and application of a new ingestible electroceutical that can support the stimulation of ghrelin release. Credits: Giancarlo Traverso (GT Reel Productions)

Current hormonal drugs have poor bioavailability when taken orally. This is why drugs such as[{” attribute=””>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.

For more on this breakthrough device:

Reference: Bioinspired, fluid-wicking, ingestible electroceutical capsules for hunger-regulating hormone modulation by Khalil B. Ramadi, James C. McRae, George Selsing, Arnold Su, Rafael Fernandes, Maela Hickling, Brandon Rios, Sahab Babaee, Seokkee Min, Declan Gwynne, Neil Zixun Jia, Aleyah Aragon, Keiko Ishida, Johannes Kuosmanen, Josh Jenkins, Alison Hayward, Ken Kamrin and Giovanni Traverso, 26 April 2023, Science Robotics.
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.ade9676

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