Medical Articles

Published in CenterView April 18, 2011

Trio of specialists unite to diminish ‘complexities’ of gastroparesis

by Patrice Sawyer Guilfoyle

A shared desire to help patients suffering from gastrointestinal diseases and to develop less-invasive treatment options binds three physicians in the endoscopy lab, operating room and the research lab.

Dr. Shou Jiang Tang, a digestive diseases specialist with an interest in advanced endoscopy and endoscopic innovations, joined the Medical Center faculty last fall to work with Dr. Thomas Abell, professor of medicine, with whom he had collaborated in the past. Colorectal surgeon Dr. Chris Lahr, associate professor of surgery, adds another perspective to the team’s fruitful patient care and research partnership.

“We’re working on 40 different projects,” Abell said.
Abell, who helped pioneer the use of stomach stimulators to relieve patients’ nausea and vomiting from gastroparesis, also includes in their team collaborators from the University of Texas, Arlington. Together they are developing a version of the stimulator that can be implanted endoscopically, opening the door for more patients to benefit from novel treatments for diseases affecting millions of people.

“There are people in the past who couldn’t be helped with upper gut and lower gut problems, as well as urinary and fecal incontinence,” Abell said. “People don’t like to talk about it, but for people who have it, they can’t leave their houses.”

When Abell was on the faculty at the University of Tennessee, his team was the first to develop a successful stomach stimulator and to test it in animals. They were the first to get Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to use the stimulator in humans, and he implanted the first device in a patient in 1992.

UMMC physicians now have implanted 10 percent of the world’s stimulators, about 600 of them. Lahr said he implants at least two devices each week.

Tang’s contributions are in the endoscopy lab. Tang, who earned the M.D. in 1992 from the West China University of Medical Sciences in Sichuan, continued his training through residency at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio and a gastroenterology fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Tang’s inerventional work keeps patients out of the operating room. If he can remove a tumor with an endoscope, it saves the patient from both a surgical procedure and the recovery time associated with it.

Abell and Lahr encouraged Tang, who holds or has applied for four U.S. patents mainly relating to novel endoscopic devices, to bring his expertise to Mississippi from Texas. Tang is pleased to be working with Abell and Lahr and continuing his investigative and clinical work, including contributions to the effort to unravel the complexities of gastroparesis.

Diabetes is often the root cause of gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach is unable to move food through the digestive system.

“The mortality rate for diabetics is worse than most cancers,” Lahr said. “A lot of these patients are completely incapacitated by their pain. They can’t work or do activities they enjoy.”

The UMMC team works together to find the best approaches to treatment for each patient, and sometimes surgery isn’t the answer. That’s where Tang’s expertise is invaluable.

“The trend in medicine is to move from traditional surgical methods to minimally invasive surgery,” Tang sai

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