A research team from University California Berkeley and the University of California San Diego has developed a wearable system for monitoring electrical activity in the stomach.
It is as accurate at diagnosing some medical conditions as current invasive methods, without traditional treatments’ restriction to clinical settings.
Gastrointestinal (GI) problems are the second leading cause for missing work or school in the US, and are responsible for 10 percent of patient visits to a doctor. But, according to a UCSD and UC Berkeley paper published in Nature, their prevalence is “at odds with bottlenecks in their diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.”
Trying to figure out the source of problems in the GI tract can be a major challenge for doctors. In search of answers, patients are sometimes asked to undergo unpleasant or invasive procedures – such manometry, which requires a catheter to be inserted through the nose to measure pressure at different points inside the stomach.
“A new kind of medicine”
The problem is especially complicated with young children, who usually need sedation for invasive procedures. The wearable system developed by the UCSD and UC Berkeley team offers an alternative without sacrificing the accuracy of the results.
It consists of a custom circuitboard, a battery and off-the-shelf electrodes, and connects to a smartphone application. But the researchers’ real achievement has been to design algorithms capable of recognising and analysing the stomach’s varying electrical signals.
“We think our system will spark a new kind of medicine, where a gastroenterologist can quickly see where and when a part of the GI tract is showing abnormal rhythms and, as a result, make more accurate, faster, and personalised diagnoses,” said Armen Gharibans, one of the paper’s co-authors and a bioengineering postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Diego.
Co-author Todd Coleman, a UC San Diego professor of bioengineering, points out that being able to monitor patients without an invasive procedure over longer periods of time could lead to better outcomes.
“This work opens the door to accurately monitoring the dynamic activity of the GI system,” he said. “Until now, it was quite challenging to accurately measure the electrical patterns of stomach activity in a continuous manner, outside of a clinical setting. From now on, we will be able to observe patterns and analyse them, in both healthy and unwell people as they go about their daily lives.”
Widening the scope
It is expected that as well as spotting health problems, UCSD and UC Berkeley’s wearable technology could also help with their management. It could even inform the diets of healthy people, from competitive athletes to pregnant women.
“Changes to digestion and gastric health are hallmarks of two understudied processes: ageing and pregnancy,” said Benjamin Smarr, another of the paper’s co-authors and a chronobiologist at UC Berkeley.
“One of our hopes is that this technology will allow us to quantify the changes that happen during these critical periods in life. They affect the vast majority of humanity, and it will now be possible to study what’s going on, and build predictive, personal medical applications based on getting ahead of bad changes.”
Internet of Business says
2018 has certainly been the year of healthtech wearables, which have proven to be especially adept at monitoring changes in electrical activity within the body, which may indicate a variety of different medical conditions. Combined with AI and smart algorithms, doctors have been able to make accurate diagnoses that are comparable to traditional investigations, but far more swiftly and sensitively. Speeding up diagnoses, while offering non-invasive alternatives to longstanding procedures, will not only save lives, but perhaps encourage more people to seek treatment early.
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