A wearable monitoring device could make treatment of swallowing disorders easier and more affordable.

Researchers from Purdue University have created a skin-mountable sensor sticker that attaches firmly to the neck and is connected with small cables to a wireless transmitter unit.

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The sensor sticker measures and records the muscle activity and movement associated with swallowing and stores the information in the transmitter unit. The information can then be analysed by a doctor to understand the precise cause of a patient’s swallowing difficulties and prescribe more targeted and effective treatment.

Purdue College of Engineering assistant professor Chi Hwan Lee said: “Our device is unique in that we specifically created it to work well with the small and intricate muscles associated with swallowing events.

“The sensor sticker is stretchable and flexible to work well with the skin and curvilinear head and neck shape, while the connected unit has electronic chips and more rigid components.”

The stickers are designed to be disposable, and can be used about ten times before being disposed of. They are made of relatively inexpensive components, according to the Purdue team.

Purdue College of Health and Human Sciences associate professor Georgia Malandraki said: “We want to provide a reliable, patient-friendly and affordable way to treat the millions of people with swallowing disorders.

“Many devices to help these people are expensive, not able to be taken home and not accessible in many rural areas.”

More than 9 million adults and 500,000 children experience severe swallowing disorders each year in the US. Swallowing requires the coordination of more than 30 pairs of muscles in the head and neck, six pairs of cranial nerves and complex circuitry in the brain and brainstem.

Any disruption in these pathways can lead to difficulty swallowing.

Malandraki and Lee have completed pre-clinical tests of the device and are currently conducting clinical trials. They are working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization on patenting their technology.