One of the standard methods of monitoring activity in a patient's gastrointestinal tract is invasive, and has to be carried out while they lie immobile in a clinic. There may soon be another option, though, in the form of a GI tract-monitoring system that is worn by the patient while at home.

Developed by a team of scientists at the University of California San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering, the setup consists of 10 standard electrodes of the type used in electrocardiograms, which are wired to a 3D-printed box containing the electronics and battery.

Worn on the patient's abdomen as they go about their daily business, it monitors and interprets electrical activity in their GI tract, using a special algorithm to distinguish the gastrointestinal signals from those produced by abdominal muscle activity and by the beating of the heart.

Data is transmitted to an app on the patient's smartphone, where it's recorded for review by a doctor. Patients also use the app to log their meals, sleep and other activities throughout the 24-hour period during which they wear the system.

In a recent test of the technology, it was used on 11 pediatric patients who had been undergoing a procedure known as manometry, which assesses gastrointestinal motility via the insertion of a catheter down the nose to measure pressure at various points within the stomach.

It was found that the new system was "robust and reliable" as compared to manometry – delivering comparable data – but unlike that procedure it was non-invasive, didn't require the children to stay in a clinic, and didn't require the use of sedatives or anesthetics. Additionally, because it monitors the GI tract for a longer period of time, the system is more likely to record abnormal events.

"We think our system will spark a new kind of medicine, where a gastroenterologist can quickly see where and when a part of the GI tract is showing abnormal rhythms and as a result make more accurate, faster and personalized diagnoses," says Armen Gharibans, first author of a paper on the research, and a bioengineering postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego.

The paper was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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