February 29, 2024

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Harnessing Digital Tech for Gastric Health

Image credits: auckland.ac.nz

Stefan Calder, a recent PhD graduate from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) at the University of Auckland, has led two scientific papers published in journals focusing on gastrointestinal health. Stefan explained that there is a growing prevalence of gastric disorders among humans, yet there is a lack of dependable, non-invasive methods to assess gastric function objectively.

“Many individuals dealing with chronic gastrointestinal issues often find themselves on a continuous cycle of diagnostic procedures involving antibiotics or proton pump inhibitors until they are eventually referred for an endoscopy.”

Stefan believes a dependable surface-based recording technique could be a valuable intermediary between symptom-based diagnostics and the more invasive and surgical tests currently used.

Like the rhythmic pulsations of the heart, the movements of the gastrointestinal tract rely on bioelectrical activity. However, detecting this electrical activity in the gut has historically posed significant challenges.

Researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and the Department of Surgery within the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences have introduced an innovative approach, utilising a specialised device comprising adhesive sensor patches, recording equipment, and associated methodologies. This pioneering technique has resulted in the development of a dependable, non-invasive tool designed to map the electrical waves originating from the stomach.

Termed ‘Body Surface Gastric Mapping’ (BSGM), this method has proven its effectiveness in accurately capturing gastric slow wave activity. Furthermore, it has led to a surprising and noteworthy revelation, uncovering two distinct disease subgroups within chronic nausea and vomiting syndromes.

The initial research paper conducted a pre-clinical study using pigs to validate the BSGM technique before its implementation in clinical trials involving human patients. BSGM has demonstrated its capability to consistently record bioelectrical activity on the surface of the gastrointestinal tract, offering precise detection of alterations in both the frequency and pattern of electromagnetic waves with exceptional detail.

Stefan addressed, “These studies have confirmed the effectiveness of a device and method for consistently and precisely demonstrating the presence of bioelectrical activity in the stomach.”

Stefan elaborated, “Among the symptomatic patient group, we found approximately two-thirds displayed normal bioelectrical activity, while the remaining one-third exhibited abnormal activity. This revelation led us to identify two distinct subtypes within what was previously regarded as a single disease. It suggests the possibility of further categorising or explaining this single disease based on different underlying mechanisms. For instance, abnormal bioelectrical activity likely indicates an intrinsic issue within the stomach itself, whereas patients with entirely normal slow wave propagation may be experiencing issues originating elsewhere.”

He continued that the concept of recording electrical activity on the body’s surface has a long history. ECG machines, which record electrical activity, have gained diagnostic acceptance over the past century, but this has yet to be the case for gastrointestinal applications.

Through this research, Stefan successfully validated a device and methodology capable of consistently and accurately demonstrating bioelectrical activity in the stomach. Additionally, he demonstrated that stomach bioactivity can serve as a valuable biological marker for the disease.

“With this newfound knowledge of bioelectrical activity, clinicians can provide more informed guidance and treatment options for individuals experiencing chronic vomiting or nausea. It may lead to more expedited diagnoses and more suitable treatment pathways.”

Peng Du, Associate Director of the Bioengineering Institute, underscores the significance of these groundbreaking findings and publications. He emphasised that this technology offers a means to facilitate advanced research endeavours aimed at enhancing the understanding of the gastrointestinal system and improving the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders.


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