Shedding light on the human colon

We’ve developed a fibre optic catheter that is extremely flexible and less than three millimetres in diameter, making it the perfect tool for studying muscular activity associated with peristalsis in the human colon.

The Challenge

Diagnosing problems in the colon

Gastrointestinal disorders such as inability to swallow, irritable bowl disorder, constipation and incontinence are highly prevalent and can cause extreme discomfort, loss of quality in life and, in extreme cases, death. 

Almost one in three people will suffer from one or more of these disorders during their lives, yet the disorders remain very poorly understood. Despite our best efforts to alleviate the suffering caused by these disorders many patients are not helped by any known therapies.

Current ‘water perfused’ devices being used for colonic diagnosis are complicated to set up, can affect measurements by introducing non-physiological amounts of water into the gut, and are severely limited in the number of sensing regions that can be located within the colon.

Accurate diagnosis is also challenging because the wide spacing between sensing regions results in an incomplete picture of colonic activity. Plus, the need to use water as the sensing medium causes difficulties for long duration studies as the water inevitably builds up in the gut.

Our Response

Fibre optic catheters

We have developed a simple use fibre optic catheter that uses light and up to 144 pressure sensors allowing doctors to accurately identify problem areas in the colon. Additionally the optic fibre offers practitioners the ability to record pressures at many more sites throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract than current technologies.

Fibre optic catheter for measuring pressures in the gastrointestinal tract.

The device is nearly three millimetres and has a totally smooth outer sleeve, making it significantly more comfortable for patients.

Not only is the catheter smaller, but the ability of fibre optics to send information over long distances means the associated electronics can readily be positioned at a discreet distance from the patient.

The Results

Comfortable results

This technology is being used in a series of clinical studies into colonic disorders and has been licensed for the use in the oesophagus and lower gut. The catheter and associated hardware is being prepared for regulatory approval in multiple jurisdictions.

Using smart physics and modern telecommunications our optic fibre sensor is:

  • substantially longer than other multi-element devices
  • as accurate as current devices
  • potentially cheaper to fabricate
  • quick to set up
  • easily operated

Ultimately we're giving practitioners of gastroenterology the ability to show details of activity in the human colon that has never been seen before.

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