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Using MRI to Understand How Electrical Stimulation Heals Stomach Problems

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is helping doctors comprehend how electrical stimulation helps alleviate stomach problems, a phenomenon that experts had previously struggled to visualize, according to research recently published in Neurogastroenterology & Motility.

Stimulating the vagus nerve with an electric impulse manipulates the speed in which the stomach empties, a method that can effectively cure gastroparesis. As a part of Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC), a project funded by the National Institutes of Health and carried out at four academic institutions, the Purdue University group created 3D structures of MRI images that documented rats undergoing electric stimulation to understand how to implement the most apt electric stimulation to heal gastric symptoms.  

The images can help physicians identify how the stomach specifically digests food. If the stomach slowly empties food into the small intestine, it’s an indicator that the stomach muscles are not functioning as they should.


According to ScienceDaily, one SPARC researcher, Kun-Han “Tom” Lu, an electrical and computer engineering doctoral candidate, “stimulated the vagus nerve to control the pyloric sphincter in rats, the valve that controls food leaving the stomach and entering the small intestine. He then created 3D reconstructions of MRI images over time. The images showed that stimulation relaxed the pyloric sphincter, speeding up gastric emptying to potentially correct delayed emptying in the case of gastroparesis, or other kinds of gastrointestinal malfunction.”

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