Throat-zapping tech shown to help treat swallowing disorders
When someone has experienced a stroke or brain injury, it's not uncommon for them to lose their ability to swallow properly. A recent study, however, suggests that a new throat-zapping system could help correct the problem faster than traditional treatments.
Known as Phagenyx, the setup is manufactured by UK company Phagenesis. It consists of a touchscreen-equipped base unit, which is attached to a single-use catheter via an electrical cable.
In one 10-minute session per day for three consecutive days, that catheter is inserted through the patient's nose and down to the back of their throat (aka the pharynx). Electrodes on the catheter then deliver mild electrical pulses to the throat tissue.
The resulting stimulation travels along the nerve pathways leading from the throat up to the damaged swallow control centers in the brain. Over the three sessions, the increased electrical activity in those centers reportedly helps them to reestablish control over the throat, ultimately allowing the patient to swallow normally again (as opposed to having to use a feeding tube).
The recent Phagenesis-funded study was conducted by scientists from Britain's Universities of Nottingham and Manchester, and from Germany's University of Münster. It involved 255 patients from the UK, Germany and Austria, who had a total of five different neurological disorders that caused dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing).
Each test subject received one batch of the standard three daily treatments. When they were assessed three months later, the majority were found to have experienced a significant reduction in the severity of their dysphagia – reportedly much more so than would have been the case otherwise.
"This study shows conclusively that electrical stimulation of the throats of these patients can help improve their ability to swallow safely," says U Nottingham's Prof. Shaheen Hamdy, who is also Chief Technical Officer of Phagenesis. "We clearly show the device is easy to use, safe and most critically, impacts on swallowing recovery in a range of disorders."
A paper on the study has been published in the journal EClinicalMedicine.