Stories about: short bowel syndrome

‘Pull’ from an implanted robot could help grow stunted organs

Surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital have long sought a better solution for long-gap esophageal atresia, a rare birth defect in which part of the esophagus is missing. The current state-of-the art operation, called the Foker process, uses sutures anchored to children’s backs to gradually pull the unjoined ends of esophagus until they’re long enough to be stitched together. To keep the esophagus from tearing, children must be paralyzed in a medically induced coma, on mechanical ventilation, for one to four weeks. The lengthy ICU care means high costs, and the long period of immobilization can cause complications like bone fractures and blood clots.

Now, a Boston Children’s Hospital team has created an implantable robot that could lengthen the esophagus — and potentially other tubular organs like the intestine — while the child remains awake and mobile. As described today in Science Roboticsthe device is attached only to the tissue being lengthened, so wouldn’t impede a child’s movement.

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Copper: How much is enough for children fed through an IV?

Just like today's pennies, our bodies have only a little bit of copper in them. But what we have, we need. Danielle Arsenault wants to understand how much copper is enough for children fed via an IV. (stevendepolo/Flickr)

Check the nutrition label on just about any packaged food, and you’ll see how much carbohydrate or salt, or how many calories, are lurking inside waiting for you. But that label won’t give you the whole nutritional picture. How much magnesium does your bag of chips contain? Or iodine, or copper?

These elements are all on the list of human micronutrients: nutrients that help maintain many of the critical biochemical processes within our cells. And while we only need them in very small amounts, micronutrient deficiencies can be devastating, even fatal.

Most of us get the micronutrients we need from our diet (chips aside), but for children whose digestive tracts can’t process regular food – such as those with intestinal disorders like short bowel syndrome (SBS) – getting the right amount of micronutrients is a different story. These children often often have to get all their nutrition intravenously through a process called parenteral nutrition (PN).

Since dieticians can tailor the nutrients given to a child on PN, you’d think that it would be easy to get the right amount of micronutrients, like copper, into the mix. But that isn’t necessarily so.

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