In Brief

Tufts in Elite Eight for STAT Madness

As the competition for best innovations in biomedicine enters its final rounds, Tufts team’s research on a pill that samples gut microbes is still in play, and needs your vote
Illustration of a pill in the small intestine. As STAT Madness enters its final rounds, Tufts team’s research on a pill that samples gut microbes is still in play, and needs your vote
An illustration of the microbiome sampling pill in the small intestine. Image: Nano Lab, Tufts University
March 19, 2021

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Tufts engineering professor Sameer Sonkusale’s microbiome sampling pill has now moved up a bracket in STAT Madness—a competition among research teams for the best innovations in biomedicine of the year. It is now one of eight scientific achievements vying for the top spot by popular vote.

You can help the Sonkusale team on their journey to the top by voting in this and subsequent rounds here (look for the Tufts logo in the bracket). Vote early and vote often. You read that right—you can vote once each day during the weekly bracket competition. The round of eight voting ends Thursday, March 25 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Sonkusale, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who leads the Nano Lab, and his team developed the device that can be swallowed and can sample the microbes that live in your gut as it travels through your gastrointestinal tract.

This microbiome is known to have a beneficial, supportive role in digestion and protection against disease. When the natural balance of the microbiome is disturbed, bad things can happen, including inflammation, susceptibility to infections, and even the exacerbation of other diseases such as cancer. The microbiome pill would be the first device that can provide a comprehensive profile of nearly 1,000 bacteria species that can be found in the gut.

“The design of this device makes it incredibly easy to use, posing little risk to the subject, yet providing so much information,” says Giovanni Widmer, professor of infectious disease and global health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the study responsible for testing the pill's effectiveness in animals and for high throughput sequencing the microbiome samples.

Collecting this information will be of great value to scientific research in understanding the composition and effects of the microbiome. It could also become a powerful diagnostic tool to be used in conjunction with pharmaceutical treatments, diet and lifestyle adjustments that bring the microbiome back in balance.

The competition is sponsored by STAT, a leading health, medicine, and life sciences news publication.

Mike Silver can be reached at mike.silver@tufts.edu.