Skin-mountable sensor set to assist swallowing disorders

Millions of people with swallowing disorders could soon be assisted by a skin-mountable sensor sticker designed to make treatments easier and more affordable.

This is the claim of two Purdue University researchers who’ve founded Curasis LLC, a company set up to commercialise the wearable technology, which is detailed in a paper in Science Advances.

“We want to provide a reliable, patient-friendly and affordable way to treat the millions of people with swallowing disorders,” said Georgia A. Malandraki, acting CEO of Curasis and associate professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences in Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “Many devices to help these people are expensive, not able to be taken home and not accessible in many rural areas.”

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The researchers have created a wearable sensor sticker that attaches firmly to the neck and is connected with small cables to a wireless transmitter unit.

According to Purdue, the sensor sticker measures and records muscle activity and movement associated with swallowing. The information is then sent wirelessly by a separate unit clipped on the wearer’s shirt to software that stores it for later analysis by a doctor.

Successful completion of a swallow requires the precise coordination of more than 30 pairs of muscles of the head and neck, six pairs of cranial nerves, and complex circuitry in the brainstem and several brain areas. Any disruption in these pathways can result in severe swallowing disorders.

swallowing disorders
Purdue researchers created wearable technology to help people with swallowing disorders (Image: Jared Pike/Purdue University)

Over nine million adults and more than 500,000 children experience severe swallowing disorders each year in the US alone.

“Our device is unique in that we specifically created it to work well with the small and intricate muscles associated with swallowing events,” said Chi Hwan Lee, CTO of Curasis and assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering. “The sensor sticker is stretchable and flexible to work well with the skin and curvilinear head and neck shape, while the connected unit has electronic chips and more rigid components.”

The sensor stickers are said to be disposable, designed with inexpensive components and meant to be used about 10 times before disposal.

Malandraki and Lee have completed pre-clinical tests of the device and are currently conducting clinical trials. They are working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialisation on patenting their technology.