Researchers from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute have shown that ablation therapy, often used to correct an abnormally beating heart, could be used to correct disorders of the stomach.
In normal circumstances the stomach is coordinated by underlying bioelectrical “slow wave” activity, which coordinates the contraction of the muscles that mix and move contents into and through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. When these electrical slow waves don’t work as they should, described as ‘stomach dysrhythmias’, it can lead to severe GI disorders and symptoms of nausea, vomiting, pain and bloating, and is often untreatable.
When dysrhythmic activity occurs in the heart it results in irregular heartbeat, a condition called atrial fibrillation, which is often treated with ablation therapy, which involves the precise ‘burning’ of tissue to control the naturally occurring electricity in the heart. Dr Tim Angeli-Gordon and PhD student Zahra Aghababaie of the ABI have shown, in research that featured as the cover story on latest issue of the American Journal of Physiology, the technique could also be applied to control the naturally occurring bioelectrical “slow wave” activity in the stomach.
Last year the team published the initial results of their research using ablation in the stomach, demonstrating that it was possible to use the technique to block the electrical activation of the stomach in localised regions. “The more recent paper builds on that foundational work and is an important advance because we have now shown that we can eliminate abnormal electrical activation with ablation, and also that the normal electrical activation of the stomach can be restored after ablation,” says Dr Angeli-Gordon. “Although these studies were done in our pre-clinical lab, they demonstrate the powerful potential of ablation in the stomach which may now be able to be translated as a therapy for patients suffering from gastrointestinal disorders.”
Unusually, the research was illustrated on the cover of the journal by co-author of the paper, Zahra Aghababaie, who created the artwork from some of her histology (microscopic) images of the gastrointestinal system, which she captioned as “the Enchanted Forest of the gut-brain”. “Within the human stomach, a great wild and vivid ‘forest’ exists working in harmony through sequences of organised contractions to extract the essential source of energy,” she writes. “The coordination of this wonderful machinery is only possible thanks to an assembly of dedicated cells orchestrating the ballet of digestion. However, sometimes the harmony of this delicate system is disturbed with abnormal dysrhythmic activity.”
Zahra's artwork was initially created as a submission to the Art of BioEng, a competition that the ABI had held since 2015 to encourage the Institute’s bioengineers to capture, through art, the world that new technologies have allowed us to see what is often beyond our imagination. “Biology imaging is both beautiful and enchanting,” she says. “We are working in a cross-disciplinary field at the ABI - engineering, biology, physics and so on. I think art can give us a moment of peace, a moment to stop, observe and appreciate. And perhaps remind us to do this more often in our everyday life and work, and in our case, our research.”
AJP Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Method of Research
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Targeted ablation of gastric pacemaker sites to modulate patterns of bioelectrical slow wave activation and propagation in an anesthetized pig model
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