(ORDO NEWS) — Long before the advent of computers, the Incas collected data and kept records using knotted ropes known as quipu.
This technology inspired them to create a new system for assessing gastrointestinal problems that is significantly cheaper than traditional methods.
When we digest food, it moves through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract with successive muscle contractions. If these contractions become out of sync or simply do not occur at all, problems such as heartburn, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome can occur.
To check what is going on in the gastrointestinal tract, a long, flexible, tubular device known as a high-resolution manometric catheter can be passed through the patient’s nose, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.
A number of sensors located along the entire length of the catheter record pressure changes in the gastrointestinal tract in real time and display the data on a computer screen.
It is an effective system, but expensive enough that hospitals and clinics in developing countries cannot afford it.
In addition, since the catheter cannot be disinfected in a commonly used autoclave, it must be sterilized using a special chemical process.
In search of a simpler and less expensive alternative, an MIT team developed the so-called QUipu-Inspired Liquid metal-enabled pressure Transducer – or QUILT.
It consists of a thin silicone tube that is filled with liquid metal (eutectic gallium-indium) and sealed at both ends.
The tube is tied into a series of knots spaced 1 cm (0.4 in) apart, which corresponds to the distance between the sensors on the manometric catheter. Like one of these catheters, it is inserted through the nose into the gastrointestinal tract.
When the muscles along the tract exert pressure on one of the nodes, this pressure causes an increase in the electrical resistance of the metal inside the node – the greater this increase, the higher the pressure.
This change can be measured with a multimeter connected to the outer end of the QUILT and converted to muscle pressure on a connected computer.
In order to determine which part of the gastrointestinal tract is contracting, several tubes can be inserted and monitored simultaneously, each with a different spatial arrangement of nodes.
In animal tests, QUILT has been used to measure pressure in the esophagus when food is swallowed and to measure a reflex known as the rectoanal inhibitory reflex.
It was found that in both cases the readings were on par with the readings obtained with a manometric catheter. However, since QUILTs are more resistant to high temperatures, they can be autoclaved. At the same time, they are cheap enough that they can be simply disposed of after each use.
“They are very fast to make and very cheap,” said Kewang Nan, co-author of the study with Sahab Babai. “Another reason to make GI pressure gauges cheap and disposable is to promote decentralized diagnostics.
In this case, being cheap facilitates accessibility by reducing cost, and disposability further promotes public acceptance as it eliminates maintenance costs and reduces complications during use.”
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