Kazuya Takahashi Cohort Four participant

Kazuya Takahashi

Queen Mary University of London

Kazuya Takahashi

A novel treatment for visceral pain by AI-driven transcutaneous Vagal Nerve stimulation device

Visceral pain is a common symptom and often refractory to the existing pharmacological treatments. Therefore, we aim to develop a non-pharmacological device that can monitor an individual’s heart rate and predict visceral pain from changes in the pattern triggering a vagal stimulator

Pain that derives from the thoracic, pelvic, or abdominal organs is called ‘visceral pain’. The prevalence rates of 25% are reported only for abdominal pain among adults, resulting in high health care cost e.g. abdominal pain from functional gut disorders costs over $10.2 billion each year in the US.

In visceral pain disorders, strong pain killers such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids (e.g. morphine) are mainly used, but pharmacological approaches are often ineffective and/or can cause significant side effects. For example, NSAIDs can cause gut bleeding, kidney failure and heart disease. Opioids are also associated with serious side effects such as psychological addiction, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression. In spite of those side effects, prescription of opioids doubled in the period 1998 to 2018 in the UK, which is referred to the opioid epidemic, resulting in further medical costs. Therefore, the development of a new effective non-pharmacological treatment is needed.

Vagal nerve is the main branch of the autonomic (automatic – not controlled voluntarily) nervous system that controls heartrate, changes in the rate can be a sign of stress brought on by pain. By detecting and monitoring changes in an individual’s heartrate we have developed a method to identify stress caused by abdominal pain. Furthermore, our research shows that stimulating the vagus nerve via an electrical pulse as it passes through the ear can help to reduce abdominal pain identified through changes in heartrate.

Our device will be the first to stimulate the vagus nerve to help reduce abdominal pain by detecting changes in heart rate caused by stress. We expect that our device will lead to the alleviation of abdominal pain and the reduction of the use of pain medications (NSAIDs and opioids), resulting in fewer side effects, less health care cost, and better quality of life for patients.

Diagnostics Accelerator Programme: market access planning and evidence generation

Delivered in partnership with the National Institute of Health Research London In Vitro Diagnostics unit this six-week evidence generation focused programme will support medtech innovators to de-risk the path to successful deployment through the development of a business case validating their clinical, financial and social claims. This way, when innovators approach the health system, they are comfortable in the knowledge that the product achieves what it is designed to do.

Applications Open (closing 7 March 2021)