UCSD researchers develop wearable, 24-hour GI tract monitor

By Laura Lovett
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Good news for Winnie-the-Pooh — a new wearable device may be able to track exactly what that rumble in his tummy is. 

Now a wearable device, developed by researchers at the out of the University of California San Diego, can track electrical activity in the stomach over a 24-hour period. The device works similarly to how an ECG would work for the heart, but instead it monitors the electrical activities of gastrointestinal tract. 

In a recent published by Scientific Reports, researchers found that the device was able collect data comparable to the clinical gold-standard, which is currently an invasive procedure. 

“Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach, intestines, etc) are one of the most common complaints in modern medicine,” Armen Gharibans, the paper's first author and a bioengineering postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Diego, wrote to Babyforyou.net.ua in an email. “Oftentimes, symptoms cannot be attributed to a medical condition despite appropriate workup. These disorders fall under the umbrella of functional disorders and make up more than 50 percent of patient referrals to GI specialists. There is an unmet need for new technologies in gastroenterology, especially ones that can monitor the patient outside of the clinic since GI activity and symptoms can vary greatly day to day.  We believe the technology we're developing can facilitate better understanding of the pathophysiology of these functional GI disorders and lead to novel and more targeted therapies.”

Right now there are limited resources for monitoring GI conditions, forcing many to go to specialized centers for treatment, according to the study. 

The new device is made up of a 3D-printed box that holds the electronics and battery and connects to 10 wearable electrodes. It works as an electrogastrogram (EGG) monitor, and was made from store-bought electrodes that are typically used in ECGs, according to a statement. EGGs often have technological issues including inconsistent results from a single-channel measurement and signal artifacts, which can make it difficult to interpret, according to the study. Researchers aimed to remedy this by using a multi-channel system and artifact removal signal processing methods. 

Researchers also developed a smartphone app to where patients can log their activity, bowel movements, sleep, and symptoms. The data from smartphone is then synced with the device data for real-time feedback to the users, according to Gharibans.  

In the study, 11 children and one adult tested the device. The children included three males and eight females, aged seven to 17 years with a median BMI of 19. Researchers said that they studied the device on more girls than boys because indigestion is more common among females. 

The study participants underwent an antroduodenal manometry where a flexible catheter placed in the participant's nose monitors pressure in the antrum of the stomach. This procedure is commonly used to study the GI tract. 

Simultaneously, the participants were fitted with the EGG device, with the electrodes were placed over the stomach. Researchers then recorded the results of both the manometry and the EGG results, and found that their device yielded an increase of 0.56 in the mean correlation coefficient between EGG and the manometry method. 

“Our approach is noninvasive, easy to administer, and has promise to widen the scope of populations with GI disorders for which clinicians can screen patients, diagnose disorders, and refine treatments objectively,” the researchers wrote. 

The GI Innovation Group is continuing to work on the product but are still in the research phase, which includes collecting more data from patients, understanding limitations, and improving the analysis method, according to Gharibans. 

“We would like to eventually bring it to market, so we are actively exploring business opportunities and applying for small business grants to allow us to further develop and miniaturize the technology,” Gharibans wrote. 

In the future, Gharibans said the device could monitor a number of GI-related issues, including some very common conditions that impact a large subset of the US population. 

“Since our technology is focused on the stomach, the two main GI conditions that this could really help monitor are functional dyspepsia and gastroparesis,” Gharibans wrote. “Functional dyspepsia (i.e., chronic upset stomach) is reported by up to 20 percent of children and adolescents and is predicted to affect 20 percent to 40 percent of all the US population at least once in their lifetime. Gastroparesis, characterized by delayed gastric emptying in the absence of a mechanical obstruction, affects four percent of the US population, including 70 percent of Parkinson’s patients and 50 percent of diabetes patients. Both of these conditions are under-diagnosed and under-managed”