Weird tech: RFID spells reflux relief

Esophageal RFID implants seek to ease backup in the supply chain to your stomach

Some innovators view RFID as a means for accelerating the enterprise supply chain with minimal human intervention. Others tout it for keeping tabs on us all more precisely as part of a totalitarian utopia of citizens "chipped" with an embedded national ID.

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And then there are those who believe RFID is the key to finding a cure for gastroesophageal reflux disease.

It's not as sexy as Agent Jack Bauer tracking down baddies to torture, but for the estimated 19 million American sufferers of reflux, RFID implants embedded in research subjects’ esophagi might lead to much-desired relief. If successful, the research by Dr. Shou Jiang Tang and Dr. Fred Tibbals, of the Southwestern Medical Center at University of Texas, Arlington, could slash the $9.3 billion spent every year on prevention techniques and improved treatments.

The technique pins an RFID chip to the esophagus to track stomach acids. Combined with an impedance monitor, the system tests for electrical impulses that signal acidic or nonacidic liquids moving through the esophagus. The system then transmits this data to a wireless sensor worn around the neck. The data is later analyzed against other data the subjects collect. How and what they eat, when they sleep and are active are all integrated with the collected esophageal liquids data to obtain a more complete picture of factors contributing to the disease.

Moreover, the implanted RFID system replaces that old tried-and-true piece of medical equipment: a flexible catheter tube threaded through the nose and down into the esophagus.

Prior to RFID, reflux testing was very uncomfortable for the subjects, Dr. Tang says, adding that results can be biased using the old method because the catheter alters the way patients eat.

Dr. Tang and Dr. Tibbals believe the flexible RFID system will make it easier for patients to follow their normal eating and activity patterns that may affect the condition.

And if their research yields the kinds of results that will help prevent and treat the ailment, the supply chain to the stomach will have one fewer pain point to contend with, thanks to RFID.

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