The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) is one of 15 specialized sites across the U.S. and Europe gearing up to trial a new implantable device that could bring relief to the estimated 25 million American adults who suffer from daily heartburn.
Chronic heartburn - technically titled gastroesophogeal reflux disease, or GERD - occurs when the stomach's acidic juices backflow into the esophagus, stirring an uncomfortable burning sensation just below the breast bone. Though a muscular ring, or sphincter, usually tightens to clamp off this backsplash, in some people this natural "plumbing" is faulty: the seal is weak, or the sphincter relaxes when it shouldn't.
"Numerous over-the-counter antacids and prescription drugs have taken aim at alleviating the symptoms, neutralizing the acids," said Jeffrey H. Peters, M.D., Seymour I. Schwartz Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery, who will lead the trial at the URMC site. "But this device tackles the root of the problem, working to squeeze the problematic sphincter itself and restore the barrier between these two organs."
While GERD is rarely life-threatening, its pain can derail some patients' daily routines, and in select cases, frequent reflux can cause serious damage to the skin-like surface of the esophagus - a condition called Barrett's esophagus, which carries a low-risk for esophageal cancer. As the incidence of GERD is on the rise, with some research pointing to possible ties to the mounting international obesity epidemic, Peters said efforts to manage the condition have become increasingly significant.
The trial device, the LINX Reflux Management System, is a ring of magnetic beads that can be inserted laparoscopically (through tiny incisions) in less than an hour. Functioning like the sphincter itself, the beads not only allow food and drink to pass through on the way down, but also assist in helping the muscle constrict to control reflux.
"In a prior feasibility study, the device helped substantially lessen the incidence of reflux for most patients," Peters said. "We're looking forward to trialing this technology and potentially helping to pave the way for its more mainstream use."
While 1 in 10 Americans may experience heartburn at least once a week, often that occasional discomfort can be managed through simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, avoiding eating too close to bedtime, wearing looser fitting clothing, exercising portion control, and steering clear of greasy, spicy or acidic foods.
"This trial is geared towards individuals who have made these changes and still don't find the relief they seek," Peters said.
The Rochester study site is seeking 10 individuals who have endured reflux symptoms for six months or more and are attempting to manage the condition with daily medication. To see if you might qualify, or to learn more, please call 585-75-URMC (8762), or visit www.refluxstudy.com.