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 digestive system and stomach.
The researchers claim that the new system is as accurate at diagnosing some gastrointestinal conditions as traditional methods are, but without any need for invasive tests or examinations in clinical settings. And it is much quicker.
Gastrointestinal (GI) problems are the second leading cause for missing work or school in the US, and are responsible for 10 percent of all 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, given that similar symptoms might be caused by minor complaints, bugs, and much more serious illnesses. Diagnosis can be a long, drawn-out process of elimination and tests.
If problems persist, patients are sometimes asked to undergo a variety of unpleasant or invasive examinations – such manometry, which requires a catheter to be inserted through the nose to measure pressure at different points inside the stomach. Diagnosis can be especially challenging with young children, who usually need sedation for these types of procedures.
“A new kind of medicine”
The new wearable system, developed by the UCSD and UC Berkeley team, offers a radical and more convenient alternative, which generates comparable results to traditional tests, claim the researchers.
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 invasive procedures 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
As well as spotting health problems, the wearable technology could also help with their management. It could even help 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. As ever, the key is smart data analysis.
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 for serious conditions. Combined with AI, smart wearables may also help to open up the new field of predictive healthcare, and the more intelligent use of scant medical resources.
Here are some more of our recent reports in this exciting and dynamic area: