LONDON -- Researchers in London, Ont., are the first in the world to use a new device for feeding tube insertion that can improve patient safety and reduce the cost of health-care services.

A team from Lawson Health Research Institute has partnered with CoapTech LLC, a medical device company, to study the use of the PUMA-G System.

In October of last year, the medical and research teams were the first in the world to use the device when they inserted a feeding tube into a 76-year-old Sarnia man who was being treated with radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.

“I had several weeks of radiation which killed my taste buds. I couldn’t swallow or eat and I was rapidly losing weight,” patient Sonny McGlone says in a press release. “I was pleasantly surprised by the feeding tube procedure. While the tube was obviously inconvenient, it was a life saver.”

Currently, feeding tubes are guided into the body by using X-ray imaging or endoscopy, a procedure that uses a camera and light to visualize the stomach. While highly effective, these methods require specialized imaging suites that are critically in need by many other patients.

The new PUMA-G system allows for feeding tube insertion at the patient’s bedside. The device uses a magnetic balloon that is fed through the patient’s mouth and guided through the stomach with an external magnet.

“This new method is already showing promise as being safe, effective and efficient,” Dr. Derek Cool, associate scientist at Lawson. “This could be especially important for patients in the intensive care unit. They can benefit from the safety of that environment without being moved.”

The PUMA-G System also minimizes the risk of puncturing other organs.

Feeding tubes are important for those who cannot maintain adequate nutrition through regular eating through the mouth. They can be very important for treatment and recovery of common conditions such as cancer, stroke and trauma.

Twenty-five patients at London Health Sciences Centre will take part in the PUMA-G study, which aims to demonstrate the overall benefits of switching to this new standard of care for feeding tube procedures.