Wearable monitor helps people who cannot swallow

Wearable monitor helps people who cannot swallow
Purdue University researchers have developed a wearable monitoring device to make treatments easier and more affordable for the millions of people with swallowing disorders. (Purdue University)

Swallowing difficulties can be detrimental to a person’s health and comfort, so Purdue University researchers have developed a wearable monitoring device to make treatments easier and more affordable for the millions of people with swallowing disorders.

The device is the brainchild of Georgia A. Malandraki, an associate professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences in Purdue University's College of Health and Human Sciences, and Chi Hwan Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering in Purdue's College of Engineering. The scientists founded a company, called Curasis LLC, to commercialize their wearable technology and move it as quickly as possible to clinics and people with swallowing difficulties.

"We want to provide a reliable, patient-friendly and affordable way to treat the millions of people with swallowing disorders," said Malandraki in an article on Purdue University’s website. "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 created a skin-mountable sensor sticker that attaches firmly to the neck area and is connected with small cables to a wireless transmitter unit. 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 physicians.

According to the article, a successfully completed 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.

"Our device is unique in that we specifically created it to work well with the small and intricate muscles associated with swallowing events," Lee said. "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 disposable sensor stickers are designed with inexpensive components and can be used about 10 times before they are thrown away.

Malandraki and Lee are currently conducting clinical trials of the device. They are working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent their technology.

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