Funding enables digestive device progress

18 November 2016
Tim Angeli
Research fellow, Dr Tim Angeli.

A new device for diagnosing debilitating digestive disorders will progress into the final development phase, due to further research funding announced this week.

University of Auckland researcher, Dr Tim Angeli was awarded the AMRF Edith C. Coan Post-doctoral Research Fellowship by the Auckland Medical Research Foundation.

The new funding will enable Dr Angeli, from the University’s Auckland Bioengineering Institute, to investigate the development and validation of an endoscopic device that maps the stomach’s electrical wave patterns.

“Diagnosis of digestive disorders can be difficult, causing frustration for patients and clinicians,” says Dr Angeli. “At present the technique for detecting electrical abnormalities in the stomach, called ‘dysrhythmias’, requires surgery.”

Instead of invasive surgery, the new device uses endoscopic (down the throat) gastric electrical mapping as a minimally-invasive technique that may take as little as 15 minutes with the patient mildly sedated, he says.

“The new device for diagnosing these gastric dysrhythmias has a custom-designed electrode array that is applied to the inside of the stomach to map the electrical activation patterns allowing us to detect the abnormal dysrhythmias associated with digestive disorders.”

The new project aims to develop a safe and effective approach for the endoscopic delivery and will verify the accuracy of the endoscopic electrical recordings.

Once this is done, the next stage for the minimally-invasive gastric mapping will be to test it in patients undergoing routine endoscopy.

The project has the potential to deliver a novel diagnostic approach for debilitating digestive disorders such as that suffered by Auckland student, Shontelle Scott.

Shontelle had just finished school and was enjoying a family holiday to the USA last year before intending to study media and criminology at Otago University in Dunedin.

It was on the plane to Dunedin that she threw up the first time for no apparent reason. Since then, Shontelle’s life has been turned upside down and inside out with daily, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, bloating, and nausea.

Her family went on an odyssey of hospitals, doctors, tests, and medications to try to find the cause of her sickness, and a way to cure it. Shontelle was misdiagnosed on multiple occasions, and all of the treatments prescribed to her were ultimately ineffective.

After months of appointments, consultations, and prescriptions, it seemed as though nobody would be able to help with a confirmed diagnosis, much less an effective treatment.

A gastric emptying test finally provided the family with a conclusive diagnosis: Shontelle suffers from gastroparesis, a condition in which the coordinated contractions of the stomach do not function properly and the stomach fails to empty.

It was shortly after this, that Shontelle was visited by Associate Professor Greg O’Grady from the University of Auckland who was able to provide more information on the available treatment options as well as give an insight on what research is underway.

The exact cause of this condition is still unknown, and there is no cure at this stage, but a dedicated team at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute involving Dr Tim Angeli and led by Associate Professors Leo Cheng and Greg O’Grady, is working towards solutions for both the diagnosis and treatment of gastroparesis and other functional gastrointestinal disorders using cutting edge sensor, analytic, and computational technology.

The prestigious AMRF Edith C. Coan Research Fellowship will allow Dr Tim Angeli to make vital progress toward developing a novel diagnostic device for these debilitating digestive disorders that patients like Shontelle suffer.

The AMRF Edith C. Coan Post-doctoral Research Fellowship is funded from the Edith C Coan Estate - administered by Perpetual Guardian.

For media enquiries email Suzi Phillips, Media Advisor, Auckland Bioengineering Institute.