Gut instinct

Gut instinct

An innovative, artificial intestine enables product testing in uncharted territory
September 3, 2013

When a Silicon Valley start-up, HospiCorp needed to test the durability of its new medical device, it turned to researchers at the University of Guelph and their “Robogut.” This equipment, funded in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and among few systems in the world capable of simulating the human gut environment, is a system of flasks, tubes and high-tech monitors that simulates the human lower intestinal tract and reproduces the trillions of bacteria that live in it. HospiCorp developed a rectal catheter to administer medication to a patient when oral administration is not possible. And it wanted to gain an edge on its competition by making a catheter that meets regular manufacturing standards for biocompatibility and is the only such device to be tested in the microflora of the human gut.

The catheter can be useful, for example, when chemotherapy patients experience nausea and can’t swallow pills. Unlike other catheters, which are built for one-time use and require hospitalization for insertion, HospiCorp’s can be inserted and kept in for regular administration — much like an IV, but at a fraction of the cost. Once on the market, the device has the potential to save healthcare systems millions by reducing hospital readmission rates, and could also improve end-of-life care for patients by allowing them to receive drug therapy at home.

HospiCorp’s catheter will be tested in the Robogut for the next few months to see how well its plastic stands up amid the bacteria of the human gut. If it meets regulatory approval, it is expected to be available in the market by 2014.