A particle physicist at a small tech start-up in Silicon Valley is helping to create a wireless, wearable patch that will give doctors a comprehensive picture of what’s going on in the human gut—something that’s never been done before.
In December 2016, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation awarded one of our largest Health grants to this start-up, G-Tech Medical, to advance their product called GutCheck. This promising technology could educate and transform how doctors monitor changes in gut motility to improve care for patients with gastrointestinal disorders.
Our venture into the world of tech and start-up companies seems natural given the Foundation’s proximity to tech’s pioneering minds and companies, and our embrace of high-risk, high-reward ideas.
I recently talked with Dr. Steve Axelrod, President and CEO of G-Tech Medical, about GutCheck. Following are highlights of our conversation.
By training, you are a particle physicist. What drew you into the field of gastrointestinal disease?
Steve: Applying my skills to human health has been the most rewarding work in my career. But more importantly, I am the father of a daughter with acute Crohn’s disease, a brother to a colon cancer survivor and the son of a colon cancer victim. As a result, I have seen firsthand how difficult these diseases are to understand and treat. So, when the opportunity arose to apply my skills to developing a technology that could assist clinicians and possibly improve the lives of patients with all types of gastrointestinal disorders, I dove right in.
How does GutCheck work?
Steve: You could think of GutCheck as an EKG for the gut. It consists of small circular patches that adhere to the abdomen and detect electrical currents from the muscle activity of the stomach, small intestine and colon. Data transmits to a smart phone and relays to G-Tech Medical for analyses and reporting. Because the patches are non-invasive, they can be worn for extended periods to assess both baseline gut motility and functional changes in response to medical intervention.
How could GutCheck improve patient care?
Steve: Our goal is for GutCheck to be part of a clinician’s toolkit to diagnose and treat gastrointestinal illness. We have learned that each person has a “gutprint” that is somewhat unique to their physiology. Understanding the signals we see from someone with a weak stomach, an overactive colon, or a small intestine that reacts to a particular type of food, will assist physicians in establishing a unique treatment course for that patient.
We are employing GutCheck in collaboration with physicians at Stanford and El Camino hospitals to monitor patients after abdominal surgery. We are working to guide feeding schedules to promote healing, and ultimately allow patients to return home as soon as possible. The early data from this trial are extremely encouraging. Especially relevant is that clinicians are seeing clear differences in gut motility between patients who return home sooner compared with those who stay in the hospital longer. We will present our preliminary findings at Digestive Disease Week in May 2017.
How might researchers employ GutCheck in their studies?
Steve: GutCheck will allow researchers to collect quantitative, organ-specific measurements as part of any patient-based study. For example, if a researcher were introducing dietary or therapeutic intervention, GutCheck could provide baseline, concurrent and post-intervention gut motility data. This would allow researchers to better understand treatment effects on digestive function. Incorporation of this technology into the study of gastrointestinal disease has the potential to yield novel insights and can be used in combination with other treatments and diagnostic tools.
What’s next for GutCheck?
Steve: So far, we have collected over 2.5 billion data points from patients. Our next step is to refine our algorithms to better detect and differentiate among the electrical signals produced by organs of the gastrointestinal track. As our data set grows, we will be able to more accurately understand the heterogeneous mix of data and pair our quantitative data with patient symptoms, demographics and treatment regimens. This will assist clinicians in predicting the most effective treatment for each of their patients based on their “gut print.” To that end, we are actively seeking to collaborate with scientists and clinicians to explore the potential of GutCheck to advance our knowledge of gastrointestinal disease and improve patient care.
Do you have a novel tech or research idea that could transform how we predict, prevent and manage Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
If so, let’s start a conversation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Wilson, PhD
Director, Health Strategy & Ventures
Laura leads the strategic direction for the Foundation’s Health program by collaborating with leading scientific and medical researchers, as well as building partnerships with organizations and international stakeholders to expand and advance innovative Inflammatory Bowel Disease research. Read more.