Computer Technology may Provide New Insight for Diagnosing Stomach Disorders

June 22, 2009

The technology used to cool central processing units in computers may have found a new role—in the diagnosis of acid-related stomach disorders.

The technology used to cool central processing units in computers may have found a new role—in the diagnosis of acid-related stomach disorders.

The device that is developed from the miniature cooling technology would be inserted into a patient’s esophagus to gauge changes in the thermal sensitivity of tissue. This knowledge would help physicians “identify those patients with abnormal acid exposure in the gullet who have heightened sensitivity in specific nerves which respond to acid” and “measure a patient’s sensory response to thermal stimulation in their esophagus,” said researchers at Royal London Hospital, where the technology is being developed. This knowledge could then be used in directing therapy, as tissue temperature “can be a key feature of digestive disorders.”

The device would be inserted into a patient’s esophagus during an outpatient procedure, the researchers explained, where it would stay for between thirty and forty minutes “while doctors conduct the necessary tests.” The researchers also said that “prototypes will be developed to enable easy insertion into the patient’s oesophagus” and that the current prototype’s diameter is only 7mm.

The new technology is based on the “Peltier effect,” the researchers explained, which “involves transfer of heat from one side of a device to the other against a hot and cold scale of temperature of the esophagus.”

Doctors from the Clinical Physics Clinical Academic Unit (CPCAU) and the neurogastroenterology unit at Royal London Hospital are conducting the research through a two-year Healthcare Scientist Research Fellowship grant.

“Typically, Peltier technology is used to cool high performance components in computers, so people may be surprised to hear that we are using this technique to help diagnose disorders of the esophagus,” said Dr. Jonathan Reeeves of the CPCAU. “There is no comparable existing product that provides the fine control and rapid changes in temperature that this technology delivers. By the end of the two years, we hope to have a tested thermal device ready to be trialled within a large scale clinical study.”