When diseased bowel is removed surgically, the two remaining sections will be joined back together. In around 1 in 10 cases the join will not heal properly and results in leakage of the contents of the bowel within the body.

Using microchip technology to detect anastomic leaks

This study links in with the EPSRC funded IMPACT study into the use of microchip technology for anti-cancer therapy, and is a collaboration between Engineering, Chemistry, Veterinary Medicine and Medicine.

It aims to adapt the technology being developed in the IMPACT study to provide an early warning system for the conditions that happen before a leak occurs, such as hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and a change in Ph values in the bowel.

The research team

The research will be led by Mr Mark Potter with collaboration from Professor Alan Murray, Professor David Argyle and Dr Carol Ward from Edingburgh University and Mr Hugh Paterson, Western General Hospital.

Why develop microchips for early detection of anastomotic leakage?

More than 20,000 large bowel surgeries are performed every year. Following surgery to remove diseased bowel, surgeons rejoin the remaining healthy bowel. In up to 10% of cases this join does not heal, leading to the leakage of bowel contents inside the body. This is a disaster for the patient and very costly to the NHS.

A leak makes patients extremely sick, requiring intensive care and long drawn out hospital recovery. They also cause life-threatening infections, including peritonitis and sepsis. As a result additional urgent surgery is often required, which results in a stoma (an opening in the abdomen to which the bowel is joined and the use of a colostomy bag for collection of faecal matter).

Leaks are usually caused by a failure of blood flow to the bowel at the join. Diagnosis is difficult, only suspected when the patient becomes unwell after the surgery. The range of early symptoms are very similar to other complications of surgery, such as pneumonia, and can therefore be missed.