FLASH Capsules: First-Ever Ingestible Electroceutical to Control Appetite by Hormone Modulation

Ingestible Electroceutical Device to Control Appetite by Hormone Modulation

Researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi have developed an ingestible electroceutical device, called the FLASH system, that modulates the gut-brain axis, affecting hunger levels and potentially treating a range of disorders. Inspired by the Australian thorny devil lizard’s skin, the device uses a fluid-wicking capsule to deliver electrical stimulation to stomach tissue, influencing the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin. Credit: NYU Abu Dhabi

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

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 gastro intestinal 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 <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

MIT is an acronym for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a prestigious private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts that was founded in 1861. It is organized into five Schools: architecture and planning; engineering; humanities, arts, and social sciences; management; and science. MIT's impact includes many scientific breakthroughs and technological advances. Their stated goal is to make a better world through education, research, and innovation.

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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.

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Here the authors describe the development and application of a new ingestible electroceutical capable of supporting the stimulation of ghrelin release. Credit: Giancarlo Traverso (GT Reel Productions)

Current hormone medications have poor bioavailability when taken orally. This is why medications such as <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. It is produced by the pancreas and released into the bloodstream when the level of glucose in the blood rises, such as after a meal. Insulin helps to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later use. Insulin also helps to regulate the metabolism of fat and protein. In individuals with diabetes, their body doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't respond properly to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels, which can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>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