University researches tube feeding

Abby Taylor

Assistant News Editor 

Teresa Johnson, a professor of kinesiology and health promotion, has submitted for review research on the safety of blended tube feeding.

Blended tube feeding (BTF) is a process in which whole foods are liquefied in a blender to be delivered to medical patients through a feeding tube, according to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Johnson said she made it her mission early in her career to get rid of BTF.

“Blended food would clog tubes; we didn’t really know what was in there from day to day,” she said. “With formula, it’s thin, it’s sterile, it can be delivered by pump.”

Johnson’s thoughts changed, however, when she got a call about a boy whose condition improved after transitioning to BTF.

After this, she began work in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic on BTF to compare the safety of the two methods.

Even though the blended food hung in the tubes longer than the formula, she found neither method posed safety risks to the patient.

“The feeding should not hang for more than two hours, but we deliberately violated hang time to see what would be the microbial growth,” she said. “That article has been submitted and reviewed, and we expect for it to be published very soon.

“It will be the first of its kind, as far as I know, in the last 20 years in the United States on that topic.”

Johnson said going forward she would like to show that BTF can be done safely within a home, even though proper oversight is needed.

Amy Spurlock, a professor of nursing and coordinator of the Doctor of Nursing Practice, was able to help with the research through her knowledge of scientific methods and statistics.

“A lot of our work has been trying to overcome bias against blended tube feeding because we were all kind of educated that sterile (tube feeding) is best,” Spurlock said. “When it comes to our guts … our microbiome actually wants real food.”

To Spurlock, however, the research was about more than just food in tubes.

Spurlock said she lost her stepdaughter, Sarah, to a problem created by tube feeding.

“She had something called microcephaly, which is an undersized head and brain … and she was fed through a tube in order to get her nutrition,” Spurlock said. 

“Over the years, because she had the tube feedings, one of the side effects of tube feeding is something called gastric acid reflux, where it’s basically acid from your stomach goes upward into your esophagus.”

Spurlock said the acid reflux caused erosion in her stepdaughter’s esophagus. 

“That led to a complication, which led to her death,” she said. “I always wondered if there had been an alternative or something that could have been done differently that might have helped her.”

Debra Milton, an associate professor of biology, helped with the research by studying the microbial counts and general quality of food given to patients.

Milton explained that the research was done in hospital conditions, but she hopes to see it taken into the real world, where the family members of patients can make the food while making their own.

Daniel Bass, a senior biomedical sciences major from Panama City, Florida, was able to gain experience through the research as well by making samples and interpreting samples.

“This research has been a good opportunity to show what can be done in Troy,” Spurlock said. 

“Compared with the Mayo Clinic, Troy is not nearly as big and doesn’t have as many resources, but it shows you that you can still do good work and good research even if you come from a smaller place.”

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