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UNC Researchers Test New Treatment for Acid Reflux

Posted July 12, 2007
Updated July 13, 2007

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— Health experts fear gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can develop into Barrett's Esophagus, a condition that can lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma, one of the nation's most rapidly rising cancers.

The answer used to be surgery to remove the esophagus, but now researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill are leading a study of a new out-patient treatment.

With GERD, the sphincter muscle separating the esophagus from the stomach stops acting like a one-way valve.

Acid from the stomach goes up into the esophagus and causes pain. Approximately 13 percent of Caucasian men over the age of 50 with chronic GERD will develop Barrett's Esophagus, health officials said.

Barrett's Esophagus appears as visible scarring.

Paul Bailey, 60, complained of heartburn and acid reflux for more than 15 years. UNC gastroenterologist Dr. Nicholas Shaheen included him in a study to test a new out-patient treatment for Barrett's Esophagus.

The Halo 360 is an endoscopic treatment developed by Barrx Medical. It uses precisely controlled heat that burns the surface layer of tissue.

"The idea here is that we're burning up that tissue in the hopes that regular tissue is going to repopulate this area," Shaheen said while pointing to a photograph of the burned treatment area of Bailey's esophagus.

"It was, for a couple of days, a rather severe case of heartburn," Bailey said.

Bailey said the heartburn soon went away. A later picture of the treatment area shows only normal pink-colored tissue. He is still on prescription medication to control his acid reflux, but his big cause for worry is gone.

"From my perspective, it's been a huge relief; a weight off your shoulders," he said.

According to health experts, GERD is more common in men of middle age and older, but women can experience it as well. Health officials said patients who experience heartburn twice a week or more may have GERD. Plus, they said patients should see a doctor about medication to control it and  should be screened for Barrett's.

A previous alternative to surgery to treat Barrett's Esophagus is Photo-Dynamic Therapy (PDT). Patients are given a medication that makes them sensitive to a certain red wavelength of light.

Like the Halo 360, a balloon on the end of an endoscope is placed in the esophagus, but instead of heat, the device emits the red wavelength of light.

Like the ablation method in the Halo 360, PDT is supposed to burn the surface layer of cells in the esophagus, but Shaheen said there are certain drawbacks to the procedure. The sensitizing medication affects the entire body, so exposure to sunlight, even over the course of several days, could result in a severe burn to the skin.

Shaheen said it is more difficult to predict or control the amount of burning applied to the treatment area, and it requires a day or two in the hospital to monitor recovery. If you would like more information about treatment, you can call 919-966-0764.

The Halo 360 is an outpatient treatment. The burn is more precisely controlled, and patients may or may not need prescription pain medication as they heal from the procedure.

20 Comments

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  • lealea42 Jul 14, 2007

    WOW - I wonder if this would work for a friend of mine. He has had REALLY bad acid reflux that no medicine has been able to put at bay. He's got SO much scarring in his esphogus (sp) that he has to have it stretched atleast 3-4x's per year. And now the dr's are looking at the surgery to cut part of the stomach off (can't think of what's called - just had brain surgery so my mind goes blank) & it's usually used for weight loss. But in his case they're trying to hold some of the acid at bay. I wonder if this would be of any help or if the scaring is too bad. Any ideas?

  • ladyblue Jul 14, 2007

    missallee--As many years as it's been since your last and you were young when it started, I'd ask my doctor about getting one.

  • isavelives11 Jul 14, 2007

    I use to have acid reflux real bad until I had all the test done. I found out I had a hiatal hernia and had surgery to fix this problem and now I feel wonderful. I had the same problem with the acid coming back up into my esophagus and my doctor repaired the hernia and fixed the spintcer muscle from opening more than it was supposed to. I suggest to anyone who is having this problem have the surgery. You will feel alot better.

  • Scarecrow Cow Jul 14, 2007

    It is so great that they are coming up with new treatments for common but damaging diseases.

  • jbrdbr111 Jul 13, 2007

    I have the problem where the muscle doesn't work right, and been through 2 endoscopies, 1 with Bravo (the PH camera), and recently had the motility study, I'm very close to having surgery as dougdeep did. I have the hiatal hernia and the problem with the muscle.. Anyone else have a success story with this surgery, as I want as much feedback as possible before I go under the knife..

    Sorry if this is a re-post, but my other one got garbled and didn't know how I could delete it..

  • jbrdbr111 Jul 13, 2007

    I have the prContent-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
    Content-Length: 446
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    d_text=I have the problem where the muscle doesn't work right, and been through 2 endoscopies, 1 with Bravo (the PH camera), and recently had the motility study, I'm very close to having surgery as dougdeep did. I have the hiatal hernia and the problem with the muscle.. Anyone else have a success story wit

  • JerryO Jul 13, 2007

    Missladee, I think the only way to know if it's gotten worse is to have an endoscopy. It's not a lot of fun, but it isn't that big of a deal. The doctor should be able to tell you immediately if you have a problem. Hope this helps.

  • dougdeep Jul 13, 2007

    Get surgery!

    I had off the charts GERD caused by a hiatal hernia when I was a teenager. Heartburn bothered me a few times a day, everyday. I blew all the upper GI tests out of the water. Since my grandmother died of esophageal adenocarcinoma, I decided to have surgery to repair the "stomach valve" at the age of 20.

    I have never once had heart burn since the surgery, and I feel much much better. I no longer require any medications. Only downside, I can't throw up. It's impossible.

    If surgery is an option for you, I highly recommend it.

  • Sunkist Jul 13, 2007

    To anyone that can answer this. I'm 38 yrs old and I've been

    having hurt burn since I was probably 16. My doctor gave me some test about 10 yrs ago and said I have acid reflux (GERD)I have been on Rx since. I'm on prilosec and it's a wonder drug. But my question is, when I heard about this on WRAL last night I was wondering to myself do I now call my Doctor for an upper GI to see where my condition stands or what. How do you know if it's gotten worst. Do you suppose to have a test every so often. Because once I was diagnosed I just started taking the Rx and never asked anymore question. I take prilosec once daily, sometime I forget to take it and if I miss 2 pills my chest will be on fire.

  • Johnny Jul 13, 2007

    Wonderful!!! Thank you for the answers. We agree, Melissa and company have been great for us as well over the past 5 or 6 yrs. I definitely agree the PDT and removal are not what you would call exciting things to consider : ) Congrats again, we totally know what your wife was go through.

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