New Wearable System to Monitor Gut Activity

Scientists Create a Wearable System to Monitor the Stomach’s Activity Throughout the Day – 27-Mar-2018 – Source Newsroom: University of California San Diego

Researchers have developed a wearable system to monitor stomach activity that performs as well as current state of the art methods but can be used outside of a clinical setting.

The system also comes with an app that allows patients to log their meals, sleep and other activities.

Folks like me with connective tissue disorders often have gastric problems due to the laxity of our innards. This often results in delayed gastric emptying and other malfunctions of the digestive system.  

A team of researchers has developed a wearable, non-invasive system to monitor electrical activity in the stomach over 24 hours—essentially an electrocardiogram but for the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract.

Applications include monitoring GI activity for patients outside of a clinical setting, which cuts down costs. Monitoring for longer periods of time also increases the likelihood of capturing abnormal events.

The team tested the device, a 3D printed portable box connected to 10 small wearable electrodes, on 11 children and one adult volunteer.

They found that data collected with the wearable system were comparable to data collected in the clinic with state-of-the-art methods, which are invasive–including a catheter inserted through the patient’s nose.

They also found that the stomach’s electrical activity changes not only around meals, but also during sleep, following its own circadian rhythm.

“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 personalized diagnoses,” said Armen Gharibans, the paper’s first author

“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 analyze them in both healthy and unwell people as they go about their daily lives.”

This makes a lot of sense. It’s the gastric equivalent of wearing a “Holter Monitor” to detect hearth problems.

From WIkipedia: a Holter monitor (often simply Holter) is a type of ambulatory electrocardiography device, a portable device for cardiac monitoring (the monitoring of the electrical activity of the cardiovascular system) for at least 24 to 48 hours (often for two weeks at a time).

Physicians involved with the study say the device meets an unmet clinical need.

Better algorithms

The researchers’ biggest challenge was designing algorithms that recognize and boost the stomach’s electrical signals amid noise and artifacts.

This is especially difficult to do because the stomach’s electrical signals are 10 times weaker than the heart’s, making them harder to capture and analyze.

Researchers harnessed the signal processing expertise in Coleman’s research group to develop a sophisticated algorithmic pipeline that can clean up the data and separate out abdominal muscle activity (for example when a person walks), heart beats and gastric activity, into different bands of signals that do not overlap.

As a result, clinicians can examine each signal individually and compare it to others.

The device and testing

The device itself uses off-the-shelf electrodes used in electrocardiograms. The electronics and battery are encased in a 3D printed box and connected to the electrodes, which fit on a person’s abdomen just over the stomach.

The researchers worked with Dr. Hayat Mousa and tested the device on 11 pediatric patients at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

These patients had been undergoing an invasive procedure called manometry, one of a couple clinical gold standards for objectively monitoring GI tract activity.

The procedure requires using a catheter inserted through the nose to measure pressure at several points inside the stomach. 

Comparing the two methods showed that data collected by the wearable device was robust and reliable.

The system is currently paired with a smart phone app that allows patients to log their meals, sleep and other activities. The long-term goal is to design an app that would allow patients and physicians to see the data collected by the device in real time.

Other applications

GI problems, such as delayed emptying of the stomach, are common in patients with diabetes and Parkinson’s.  This technology could improve the management of these conditions.

“This pioneering research has the promise to bring to gastroenterology the kind of diagnostic insights that electrocardiograms have brought to cardiovascular medicine,” UC San Diego’s Smarr said.

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