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Digesting a solution

Digesting a solution

A micro gastric stimulator developed by electrical engineering researchers would attach to the inside of the stomach and help cancer patients digest foot.

Cancer patients and others who can't stomach food because of severe medical ailments could soon have hope, thanks to a UT Arlington doctoral student's invention.

Sanchali Deb and her mentor, electrical engineering Professor J.C. Chiao, are testing a micro gastric stimulator intended for gastroparesis treatment. Cancer patients with gastroparesis, which affects the ability of the stomach to empty its contents, suffer from the negative effects of chemotherapy.

"It would be very rewarding to design something that would benefit people who wouldn't survive without it," Deb says. "I think that would be the best achievement in my life."

Sanchali De

Sanchali Deb, electrical engineering doctoral student

The device also targets diabetics who have severe digestion problems, patients with neurodisorders, obese patients, and patients who suffer from severe vomiting and nausea. Trials in Mississippi have been successful. Deb and Dr. Chiao are teaming with Dr. Tom Abell, who heads the digestive diseases division at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The stimulator works much like Chiao's gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) wireless sensor. GERD is caused by stomach contents rising into the esophagus and is the main risk factor for esophageal cancers.

The micro gastric stimulator is implanted in a 30-minute outpatient procedure. A doctor inserts the device through the throat and esophagus using an endoscope and attaches it to the inside of the stomach.

A small controller outside the body wirelessly activates the implant to set off weak electrical impulses that stimulate the stomach tissues. These impulses make the stomach move properly to digest food.

“IT WOULD BE VERY REWARDING TO DESIGN SOMETHING THAT WOULD BENEFIT PEOPLE WHO WOULDN'T SURVIVE WITHOUT IT.”

In contrast, the device currently used is much larger and requires an incision, adding stress to patients who are already suffering. Patients also must undergo a three- to six-month trial, with wires extending from the stomach through the esophagus and out the nostrils. The external part of the device is worn in front of the chest; wires are taped on the face. If the trial is successful, more surgery is required. And in three to five years the battery must be replaced, bringing surgery yet again.

Not the case with UT Arlington's micro gastric stimulator, which harvests energy from the external controller and is smaller than half a postage stamp.

"Our device doesn't have the wires or the battery, and the procedure can be done on an outpatient basis," Deb says. "It's a lot simpler and less traumatic. I can't imagine having wires through my nose for several months."

Up next: FDA approval for human testing. Then, Deb and Chiao hope, comes marketing.

- Herb Booth