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Surface Mapping is a reliable diagnostic tool for gut health

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Non-invasive sensors placed on the surface of the skin to measure bioelectrical activity could provide a better way to screen patients with poor gut health and reduce the need for more expensive procedures.

Stefan Calder, a recent PhD graduate at the Auckland Institute of Bioengineering (ABI), and Ipapa Taumata Rao, University of Auckland is the lead and co-first author of two research papers published in prestigious scientific journals this month on gut health. Stomach disorders are increasingly prevalent in humans, Stefan says, but reliable, non-invasive tools to objectively assess stomach function are lacking.

“Many people with chronic bowel problems are on a continuous diagnostic vicious cycle of antibiotics or proton pump inhibitors until they are sent for endoscopy. Reliable surface scoring can bridge the gap between symptom-based diagnoses and more invasive micro-surgery tests” .

Like the regular beating of the heart, the gut’s movements depend on bioelectrical activity – but electrical activity in the gut has been difficult to reliably detect. Researchers at ABI and the Department of Surgery at the College of Medical and Health Sciences used a new device using an adhesive patch of sensors, a tape recorder, and associated techniques to create a new, reliable, non-invasive tool to map electrical waves from the stomach.

Formulated by Body Surface Stomach Mapping (BSGM), this method has proven to be a reliable detector of slow-wave activity in the stomach and has now led to an exciting and unexpected discovery identifying two disease subgroups in chronic nausea and vomiting syndromes.

The first paper, published in the American Journal of Physiology, Gastroenterology, and Hepatology, explored the use of mapping in pigs as a preclinical study to validate BSGM before progressing to clinical trials in human patients. BSGM has been shown to reliably record bioelectrical activity on the surface of the gut and accurately detect changes in both frequency or rhythm and direction of electromagnetic waves in intricate detail.

The second paper, published in Science Translational Medicine, aims to explore the degree of difference in bioelectrical activity between healthy subjects and patients with chronic nausea and vomiting syndromes identified by the new gastric mapping device. While previous surgical and nonsurgical studies have shown that upset stomachs are associated with abnormal bioelectrical slow waves, researchers have found surprising results.

Stephen explains. “About two-thirds of the symptomatic group of patients had completely normal bioelectrical activity, while the remainder had abnormal activity. We recognized that there were two subtypes of what was previously considered a single disease. This may go on to explain or classify this individual disease into two diseases based on On different mechanisms, for example, abnormal bioelectrical activity is likely to indicate something fundamentally wrong with the stomach itself, but for those patients who show completely normal slow-wave propagation, their problem likely originates from elsewhere.”

The idea of ​​recording electrical activity on the surface of the body has been around for a long time. ECG machines, which record electrical activity, have gained diagnostic acceptance over the past 100 years, but this is not the case in the gut. Through these studies, we have validated the device and process that can reliably and accurately demonstrate the bioelectrical activity in the stomach. We also show that gastric bioactivity can be a useful biomarker of disease.”

“With this bioelectrical information on hand for clinical guidance or treatment, people with chronic vomiting or nausea may be directed down different pathways and may receive the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment options sooner.”

Associate Director of the Institute of Bioengineering, Ping Du, says the new findings and prestigious publications are a “great result” and represent decades of research conducted at ABI and the College of Medical and Health Sciences.

“Behind this success is the cumulative efforts of our research teams as well as the development of the deep-tech Alimetry technology, which is marketed and spin-off from the university, which provides a way to facilitate the most advanced research activities to improve understanding of the digestive system and the diagnosis and treatment of gut disorders.”

Learn more about the use of animals in research and teaching at the University of Auckland.