RFID prevents lump in the throat

2 min read

Medical researchers have combined RFID technology with impedance monitoring, which measures electrical impulses, to create a device that can more easily track oesophageal reflux.

University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Centre doctors and UT Arlington engineers developed the device to improve monitoring of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD is caused by stomach content moving upward from the stomach into the oesophagus.

The new system involves pinning a small, flexible RFID chip to the oesophagus, where it remains until removed by a physician. The chip, about two centimetres square, tests for electrical impulses that signal acidic or non-acidic liquids moving through the oesophagus. It then transmits data to a wireless sensor worn around the neck.

The device is currently being tested. Researchers believe it will be a welcome replacement for current standard procedures, which require placing a flexible catheter tube through the nose and down into the oesophagus, which is uncomfortable and can affect eating and drinking.

No catheter is required with the RFID system, so doctors are hopeful that the system makes it easier to follow normal eating, drinking and activity patterns that may play a part in the acid reflux. Researchers say patients shouldn’t feel anything in their throat when the device is inserted thanks to a special plastic material used.

The RFID system is the next step in a growing effort to develop less invasive wireless technologies for gastrointestinal diseases. Those include the PillCam, a small pill-sized wireless camera that takes photos as it goes through the digestive tract, and Bravo capsule, another wireless system that detects oesophageal acids. UT Southwestern gastroenterologists currently use both technologies.

Researchers have already successfully tested the new RFID device to see that it properly identifies simulated stomach acids in a test tube and that the transmitter can send the results through human tissue. The sensor is designed to detect stomach acid, gas and water so doctors can determine whether the presence of those substances coincides with feelings of heartburn, the start of eating or other activities. The next step will involve testing in animal models before the system is tested in humans.

The wireless system took two years to develop. Engineers had to develop the specialised radio frequency implant, which detects and sends the data, as well as the receiver. The receiver will include a button the patient can push when they begin eating. Eventually, the researchers hope to design a device similar to a personal digital assistant to store the results. That PDA-like device could then be taken into a doctor’s office and downloaded into a computer to analyse the results.