Mela is a service company that supplies chocolates with bacterial cocktails, specifically designed to your digestive health. Their ‘Gutbot’ enters the body via disposable chocolates that have different textures to indicate the areas of the specific person’s health that are being targeted. From there, it can monitor the body’s bacterial needs and an interface will show the person’s gut progressions and information from other health trackers. People are then able to adjust gut microbiota so they can reduce the impact of stress, improve their sleep cycle, control sugar and liquid metabolism, improve their mood, and reduce symptoms of digestive problems. We spoke to Maria Apud-Bell, a design scientist that started the company in 2017, about her master project at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College of London.

 

Rosie Lintott: Where did the idea come from to invent the Gutbot?

Maria Apud-Bell: The idea got shaped by thinking about how scientific tools are immersed in our everyday life more and more and they are actually not very user friendly. I was trying to imagine how users would be empowered to have more control over their overall health awareness.

The Gutbot was one of the ways in which you would avoid users [having] to interpret data and that would be simple enough for someone to operate. Of course everything comes with its downside. As people are starting to be more comfortable with wearable technologies, swallowing an e-pill might not be a problem in the short future, but nowadays some people are sceptical about it.

 

RL:  Why did you choose chocolate to create the technology?

MAB: I chose chocolate for different reasons; some of them are related to its chemical properties but also due to its user experience. People like having sweet treats and they are often considered unhealthy behaviours. This tries to strengthen the fact that dark chocolate can be beneficial for your health (this has already been proven by researchers).

 

RL:  Do you have plans to use any other type of food?

MAB: I do have plans to create bio treats that do not have chocolate in them to make sure I am targeting a wider range of users but, for now, a strong and reasonable start is to keep working with the same ingredients for this first stage.

 

RL: Have you seen any other company do something like this?

MAB: Similar technologies to Gutbot are being used in medical contexts. So far I have not been aware of a commercial product that is similar to it for home usage. There are some companies working on treats with probiotics but they differ in the quality of them and their overall system view. Many of them are a one-time snack and it does not really focus on the health implications (or better say no implications) of that one time behaviour.

 

RL: Do you think this new technology will help diagnose health conditions quicker?

MAB: My purpose is not to diagnose people, but to monitor trends and show potential health outcomes. You normally don’t get sick from one day to the next, there’s a series of indicators that show that something is wrong with your body before something serious develops. I believe that people within the area of healthcare are essential when diagnosing since they provide information and support.

 

RL: Is this technology the start of new advancements in medical technology?

MAB: I believe that the world is already moving towards fast testing and empowering individuals to have a better sense of control over their own health at a lower price. Paper diagnosis technologies have been around for several years now but they have not rocketed yet.

 In the world of pharma there are many barriers to overcome that are not only technical but political. Sensitivity and precision in these fast and low-cost testing services is also something that is important to consider. So the appearance of these technologies does not mean that biochemistry labs will disappear, but they will just have different functions.

 

RL: Where do you want to see the company in five years’ time?

MAB: I would like to see products of this company in regular food halls rather than medical or supplement sections, whilst keeping all its health benefits. I think it is time for us to stop thinking about our food disconnected from medical/healthcare and create more delightful preventive tools that we will all want to eat, rather than something that we have to eat.