Professor's electrifying journey through the gut

Imagine watching the inside of a stomach at work: the gut walls breaking down food, transporting and mixing it in the small intestine and compacting and sorting the waste in the colon.

Professor Leo Cheng

For the last 15 years bioengineer Professor Leo Cheng has been doing exactly this as he has studied and modelled the inner workings of our stomachs.

“There is still so much we don’t know about gut disorders,” he says.

Since 2003 Professor Cheng, who leads the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s Gastrointestinal Motility Research Group, has been measuring the electrical activity in the stomach and using computerised models to help interpret and predict data. His team have collaborated with surgeons, engineers and gastroenterologists in New Zealand, the US and in Europe.

“Like the heart, rhythmic electrical waves coordinate the contractions and relaxations of the gut walls in a process known as peristalsis,” he says. “These coordinated movements are critical for the efficient breakdown of food.

“A number of disease states have disordered electrical activity patterns.”

Left (the pinkish stomach) is a schematic of the electrical conduction system of the human stomach, showing the variation in slow wave speed and amplitude in different regions. Right is an anatomically-based mathematical model of the slow wave activity in the human stomach, showing the slow wave patterns at one particular instance in time. Both models are built from ABI experimental measurements.

As a result of years of closely focused study, Professor Cheng says his team is on the verge of making a real difference to gut disorders.

“There are three main disorders we have been targeting: gastroparesis when the stomach becomes paralysed, chronic unexplained nausea and vomiting, and dyspepsia which affects a large population who experience chronic indigestion and pain.

“We are starting to narrow down the cause of these disorders and work towards therapies and our team is taking a leading role in this internationally.”

Professor Cheng will explain more in his inaugural lecture at the University of Auckland next week.

My electrifying journey through the gut

24 October 2018
5:15 - 7pm
Faculty of Engineering, 20 Symonds Street. Neon Foyer for refreshments starting at 5.15pm & Lecture Theatre 401.439 for lecture starting at 6pm.

Tess Redgrave | Media adviser
Tel: 09 923 7383 Mob: 027 562 5868

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