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Swallowing problems

Pioneering research at The University of Manchester has led to the introduction of the world's first effective throat stimulation treatment for stroke patients with swallowing problems (dysphagia).

Dysphagia is a potentially life-threatening condition, putting patients at risk of a number of conditions such as malnutrition and chest infections. It costs the NHS an estimated £400 million each year.

Around 50% of patients who have a stroke develop dysphagia and this affects at least 40,000 patients in the UK alone each year.

Professor Shaheen Hamdy and colleagues identified a number of areas within the brain that are associated with the control of swallowing nearly 20 years ago.

They demonstrated that stimulation to the throat area using electrical pulses, delivered through a tube, altered the brain regions that control swallowing.

Further clinical trials of the intervention are currently underway in stroke patients, and will hopefully further support its efficacy in the rehabilitation of swallowing.

And in 2007, Professor Hamdy patented the device he had developed, linking in with the University's Intellectual Property Company. As a result, the spin out company Phagenesis Ltd was set up.

Phagenesis further developed this new technology, named Phagenyx™, to a much higher specification. It is now sold in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. There are plans to expand into North America.

Phagenyx™ is an automated bedside, patient-friendly, battery operated throat stimulator in patients. The technology is believed to work by helping to enhance brain plasticity and thus speed up recovery. It is envisaged that this device could become a standard routine of care in the future.

The use of Phagenyx™ may ultimately lead to shorter hospital stays, improved patient outcome and significant financial savings to the NHS.

“We discovered that applying forms of stimulation to the pharyngeal area using electrical pulses delivered through a tube that was placed within the throat could actually alter the swallowing areas in the brain and indeed enhance them dramatically both in healthy and then in acute stroke patients.”

Shaheen Hamdy / Professor of Neurogastroenterology