TTUHSC El Paso rolls out ‘breakthrough treatment’ for stomach paralysis

El Paso News

From left: Richard McCallum, M.D., Brian R. Davis, M.D., FACS, FASGE, Irene Sarosiek, M.D.
Photo Credit: Christ Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) –  After four years of trials, a research team from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso believes they’ve made a major breakthrough in treating gastroparesis.

Commonly known as stomach paralysis, gastroparesis is a condition that affects the muscles of the stomach, preventing it from properly emptying.

The group learned that combining two procedures during one surgery on the stomach significantly improved the condition of patients with severe gastroparesis. After the surgery, patients experienced less nausea and could properly empty their stomachs without complications.

“At the end of the day, we can save the amount of time patients spend in a hospital and ensure a better future for them,” said Irene Sarosiek, professor and director of neurostimulation research at TTUHSC. “Frequent hospitalizations for severe nausea and vomiting were reduced over the next three months post-operative. Symptoms were alleviated, their quality of life improved, health care costs were lowered and hope was restored to the patients. This kind of outcome is priceless.”

The two combined procedures are gastric electrical stimulation and pyloroplasty. With pyloroplasty surgery, the opening in the lower part of the stomach is widened so its contents can empty into the small intestine. During a routine gastric electrical stimulation surgery, a device is placed next to the stomach and two leads are implanted into the stomach walls. This “gastric neurostimulator” sends electrical pulses through the leads to electrodes sutured into the wall of the stomach. The process transmits a signal to the brain and ultimately reduces the frequency of nausea and vomiting.

During the trial, the combined procedure was done on 27 patients, including 22 patients with diabetes, with six patients that were on dialysis. The trial was led by Sarosiek and Richard McCallum, professor and director of the TTUHSC El Paso Center for Neurogastroenterology and GI Motility. The procedures were done by Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso surgeon Brian R. Davis, also a Department of Surgery professor and residency program director at TTUHSC El Paso.

Every patient received the combination of both procedures, but half of the patients had their gastric electrical stimulation device inactive for the first three months. Because it was a randomized trial, neither the patient nor the physicians knew if the device was active until after the trial.

Half of the patients who had their device active for the first 3 months experienced significantly less vomiting than those who were not activated. When the device was activated three months later for the remaining patients, they also reported significantly fewer symptoms with a mean of 70-80% reduction in overall symptoms.

“This is something we’ve been working on since January 2017. It was a demanding and challenging project,” Dr. Sarosiek said. “But we were able to help our patients and the research may lead to quality of life improvements for countless patients who suffer from gastroparesis.”

The TTUHSC El Paso team presented their findings in May during Digestive Disease Week, described as the world’s premier meeting for physicians and researchers in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy, and gastrointestinal surgery. They were chosen to be one of the signature lectures by the American Gastroenterological Association Council, in which only about 1% of all submitted abstracts receive this invitation.

“We had a few questions and discussions afterward, but this is one of the rare situations where not having a lot of questions was a good thing because that means they listened and understood that this is the real deal,” Dr. McCallum said. “It’s hard to argue with this data.”

Dr. McCallum said other institutes, including Temple University and the University of Louisville, are conducting similar practices. However, thanks to the TTUHSC El Paso study, Dr. McCallum aims for the combined procedure to become the “gold standard” for treating severe gastroparesis with surgery, TTUHSC officials said.

“I think within five years it could be the widely-used state-of-the-art method to treat gastroparesis,” Dr. McCallum said. “Before that can happen, other researchers need to be able to repeat the study and confirm the results as we have. Someone is bound to repeat the study and we wish them luck, because it takes a great amount of time and effort, but it is worth it.”

Gastroparesis currently affects more than 10 million Americans, including about 30,000 people in the El Paso region, Dr. McCallum said. TTUHSC El Paso remains dedicated to researching further treatment for the disorder.

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