New smart pill helps diagnose stomach problems

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People with the chronic stomach condition known as gastroparesis, or slow stomach emptying, live in fear that eating will cause an episode of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Diagnosing the disorder can take months of testing, and often invasive procedures. Now, a new Smart Pill is making the process quick and easy at The University of Kansas Hospital, the only hospital in the region to use this technology and the only tertiary University hospital in the country to offer this novel diagnostic tool as a standard clinical test. Gastroparesis is common in diabetics, whose high blood sugar can destroy the stomach's vital vagus nerve, preventing stomach muscles from contracting. Currently, they must endure a gauntlet of invasive, expensive, and often inconclusive tests with different standardizations in different medical centers. Now, a patient simply swallows the Smart Pill and goes about their daily routine.

The small capsule, about the size of a multivitamin, contains sensors and a radio transponder. As it passes through the stomach, intestines and bowel, it transmits critical diagnostic information--such as pH, temperature and the amount of pressure in the stomach and intestines--to a receiver that the patient wears either on a lanyard or attached to a belt. A few days later, when the pill has made its way through the system, the doctor downloads the data from the receiver to a computer, and has an accurate picture of how the patient's stomach is working, and can offer that patient the best treatment plan.

“Some of these patients can't really leave their house because of their problems. Often, these patients are losing weight because of limited nutritional intake,” says Richard McCallum, MD, professor of gastroenterology at The University of Kansas Hospital and Director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Nerve & Muscle Function and Gastrointestinal Motility. “This new technology will allow us to give these patients the treatment they need much sooner and with a non-invasive safe & well tolerated test with standardized results for better patient outcomes.”

The Smart Pill is not to be confused with the pill cams which have made headlines in the last few years. Those only take pictures of the GI tract and do not measure pH or pressure. While useful, to visualize areas of obstruction, bleeding or ulceration they do not address the concept of functional gastrointestinal disease where is the next step when endoscopic approaches have been normal.

Dr. McCallum anticipates the Smart Pill will be utilized everyday in his clinical activities. The University of Kansas Hospital was one of 6 sites in the country conducting the initial clinical trials of the Smart Pill, which has led to FDA approval. Now the Smart Pill has made its journey from the laboratory to the patient's bedside and outpatient clinic examine room and will revolutionize the way gastroenterologists and other physicians can assess the gut.

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