ACU grad gets $1 Million grant to pursue medical research


For Immediate Release
Dec. 1, 2000

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Tom Craig, Director of Media and Community Relations
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An Abilene Christian University graduate who is now a Lipscomb University professor has been awarded nearly $1 million by the National Institutes of Health to pursue pioneering research into the diagnosis of stomach disorders.

Dr. L. Alan Bradshaw, assistant professor of physics at Lipscomb, believes it is possible to diagnose stomach disorders non-invasively by analyzing disruptions in the stomach's magnetic field. One reviewer of Bradshaw's grant proposal called it a "highly innovative approach to a major clinical problem."

Healthy humans have regular electrical activity in the stomach and other smooth-muscle organs that produce a consistent, measurable magnetic field.

Bradshaw's idea is that changes in the magnetic field reveal changes in the electrical activity and indicate specific types of stomach disorders.

Bradshaw's primary associates in the study are Vanderbilt University surgeon William Richards, M.D., who has performed research in gastrointestinal motility disorders for more than a decade, and doctoral program adviser, Dr. John P. Wikswo, a leading figure in measurement of biomagnetic signals. They are focusing on gastroparesis, which commonly occurs in, but is not limited to, diabetic patients.

"In a normal stomach, different parts communicate with each other to drive electrical activity down the stomach so that your stomach will empty its contents. In a disease state, such as gastroparesis, the cells of the stomach don't communicate quite right. When that happens, the magnetic fields of the stomach become very disorganized," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said he hopes to identify a magnetic "signature" of gastroparesis, which would allow this illness ˆ and possibly others ˆ to be diagnosed non-invasively. Measuring the minute electrical fields emanating from the abdomen requires a special device that has just been constructed and is housed at Vanderbilt University, where Bradshaw and associates in the project are conducting their research. The multichannel magnetometer, or "SQUID" for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, can measure magnetic fields one million times weaker than the earth's magnetic field.

Although gastric electrical activity is sometimes detectable through electrodes, the SQUID is positioned over the abdomen and provides a higher fidelity image, Bradshaw said. "From my standpoint, the fact that you can measure this activity at all without contacting the subject's abdomen in any way is going to be a big advance for the medical field," Bradshaw.

In addition to diagnostic advancements, the research could eventually support other studies being done on the treatment of digestive disorders. That would be welcome news to those suffering from digestive disorders, now estimated at approximately 25 percent of the population.

Bradshaw holds a bachelor's degree from ACU, earned his doctorate from Vanderbilt in 1995. His dissertation was titled "Measurement and Modeling of Electric and Magnetic Fields from Gastrointestinal Activity.

"In addition to teaching full-time at Lipscomb, Bradshaw holds a research assistant professorship at Vanderbilt with a joint appointment to the department of physics and the department of surgery. Bradshaw's parents teach at ACU. His father, Dr. Larry Bradshaw, is a professor of mass communication. His mother, Dr. Gloria Bradshaw, is director of alpha academic services.

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Last update: Dec. 1, 2000
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