Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is a debilitating, relapsing condition that first emerges in young adulthood and affects patients throughout their life. These conditions are widespread within the community, with approximately 61,000 Australians affected, and are associated with huge costs to health services. Current drug therapies are often associated with serious side effects and sub-optimal symptom relief.
The Bionics Institute is involved in a collaborative project to create a novel device that will enable detection of gut inflammation and will therapeutically stimulate the vagus nerve. This device will provide a patient-specific, automated device to safely and effectively treat the symptoms of Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
This device will constantly monitor the degree of inflammation in the gut and, when a certain threshold of inflammation is detected, a signal will be sent to a stimulator implanted under the skin. The stimulator will send electrical impulses to an electrode array that contacts the vagus nerve, a key peripheral nerve that affects gut function. In this ‘closed-loop’ system, the timing and pattern of stimulation will automatically be adjusted depending of the degree of inflammation in the gut. This will allow safe, efficient and individualised treatment of inflammation, will have minimal side effects compared to drug therapies, and reduce the need for frequent consultations with clinicians.