An Edmonton-based medical technology company has developed a product to help those who have difficulty swallowing, and the technology is already helping Alberta patients regain their ability to eat and drink.
For David Jameson, technology was transformative.
Like many cancer patients, the 61-year-old Edmonton TV presenter suffers from dysphagia, the medical term for people who have difficulty eating and swallowing.
Jamieson was diagnosed with head and neck cancer about two years ago and underwent a six-week cancer treatment during which doctors drilled a hole from ear to neck on the left side of his face and removed a three-centimeter tumor and other lymph nodes. .
Doctors also removed the so-called base of the tongue. It sits at the back of the throat and pushes food down.
“Responsive swallowing is very difficult for humans,” Jamison said.
"It's not something that's limited to the throat, it includes the muscles in the neck and the muscles in the shoulders."
Edmonton-based company True Angle created a small device called Mobili-T, short for Mobile Therapist, to help patients with dysphagia track their exercise.
Jana Rieger, CEO of True Angle, came up with the idea while working as a clinical scientist. I have worked with head and neck cancer patients who had difficulty eating and swallowing due to the treatment they were receiving.
"It's a very debilitating ordeal, both physically and emotionally," Rieger told CBC Edmonton AM .
After treatment, Jamison said she stopped eating in public and got most of her nutrition from liquids.
“If the piece of food is too big, I will choke and choke. It's scary,” she said.
Many of Rieger's patients told her that they wouldn't be treated for cancer if they knew they would have to live with dysphagia.
“It’s awful to hear when you think about what food does for us humans and how much joy and pleasure it brings,” Rieger said.
Rieger and his team were funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation and received $200,000 to develop their idea.
Mobili-T is placed under the chin and uses small sensors attached to the surface of the skin to monitor the activity of the throat muscles.
“You can put it on any muscle in your body and you can feel that contraction, how strong it is, and how long you hold that contraction,” Rieger said.
According to her, more than 500 million people worldwide suffer from dysphagia.
The device is connected to an app where patients can see their exercise goals and communicate with their doctors.
Jamison said he held it responsible for his recovery. He was a good motivator and made him work hard even when he wanted to give up.
True Angle conducts research in the country and studies how the product is being used by patients and how it compares to conventional treatments for dysphagia.
It is also working towards Health Canada approval.
"I'll never be the same and never have been, and I've dealt with it on so many levels," Jamison said.
"There are days when it's still frustrating, but you find a way around it."