Dr Phil Dinning of the Department of Human Physiology at Flinders has won a prestigious Eureka Prize for taking fibre-optics technology to a place it has never been before – the human gut.
Dr Dinning (pictured) and his CSIRO colleague Dr John Arkwright received the $10,000 Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology for their development of a pressure-sensing catheter that provides unprecedented and intricate detail of muscular contractions deep within the human colon.
Gastric disorders are a major health issue that have a significant impact on quality of life and affect 20 per cent of the population, but have proved hard to diagnose and cure because of a lack of understanding and accuracy around what exactly is happening inside the gut.
By adapting fibre-optics – the flexible, small-diameter technology more usually associated with telecommunications – the researchers have been able to monitor the gastrointestinal tract with high resolution over extended lengths of time while the patient is awake and mobile.
“The work of doctors Dinning and Arkwright serves as a great example of what can be achieved when we apply known technologies ‘out of the box’,” said Mr Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum, which awards the annual Eureka Prizes.
Their studies have revealed that the previous best catheter technology may have missed or mislabelled up to 90 per cent of backward and 40 per cent of forward propagating pressure waves. The research has major implications for the treatment of conditions such as constipation and incontinence.
While designed specifically for gastrointestinal use, the technology is not limited to this field, and already interest is growing in areas such as urology and cardiology. It also has potential applications outside medicine in infrastructure and hazardous environment monitoring.