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Faculty, students expand scope of cutting-edge feeding tube studies

October 25, 2019

Troy University’s Kinesiology and Health Promotion department has made strides in its research about natural blended tube feeding in cancer patients, with continued growth in financial support and student involvement in its newest studies.

The first study, focusing on whether substituting blended real food products was a safe alternative for patients struggling with commercial formula feeding, yielded successful results and has furthered the span of research in an area that has had little prior attention.

“One of the traditional objections to blended tube feeding by healthcare providers is that they think that blending up real food increases the likelihood of bacterial infection,” said Dr. Teresa Johnson, a professor of kinesiology and health promotion. “And they’re basing that off of studies that have largely been conducted in other countries.”

The department’s first study results found no difference between the bacterial safety of blended whole foods and commercial formula.

Last year TROY Today reported on this progress and eyes in the health community turned to the research study. Support has quickly grown.

TROY student Taylor Carbone  demonstrates a method of taking skin folds to a Montgomery Cancer Center employee.
TROY student Taylor Carbone demonstrates a method of taking skin folds to a Montgomery Cancer Center employee.

“We enlisted the help of the Montgomery Cancer Center to get head and neck cancer patients who have to be on tube feeding to start out on commercial formula and switch over to real food products,” Johnson said.

In the second study, researchers advised participating cancer patients to make their own blended food in their homes, which was more convenient for families and patients. It also aided in preventing side effects and slowed progressive weight loss, which is common in all cancer patients.

In addition to cancer patients in the Montgomery area, the study also involved participants from the Troy area.

“We decided in that second study to go to the homes of people around the university and ask them to prepare blended tube feeding in their home just following expected food handling protocols of your own kitchen: washing in a dishwasher or sink, rinsing and air drying,” Johnson said. “What we found is that of all of our samples only one would not have met international standards.”

The department has support from Real Food Blends, a company that sells pre-packaged natural blended foods similar to what you’d purchase for baby feeding. The company has donated an estimated $40,000 worth of products for use in testing. 

Without the donations, Johnson says it would be almost impossible to conduct the research as successfully.

The student involvement with the process has steadily given Taylor Carbone, a senior exercise science major from Foley, and one of the students involved in the research study, an increased level of responsibility and experience since the first study was conducted.

Carbone shadows the Montgomery Cancer Center dietitians to learn more about how a patient’s body weight is maintained through the tube feeding process, specifically how natural food aids this process faster than commercial formula.

“I’ve been working there since June, so once or twice a week I’ll go to the cancer center in Montgomery and I’ll help the dietitians,” Carbone said. “I help screen (patients) and we do anthropometrics, which is basically testing different levels of body composition. I write the paperwork and keep track of their progress every week.”

Because of the work she has done with this study, Carbone now is inspired to help people with feeding tubes “get back to their normal lives.”

“The whole basis of the project is getting people to eat real food again,” Carbone said.

Because of this partnership, Carbone says she is gaining valuable experience that will be vital for the next step on her path to becoming a dietitian herself.

Looking ahead, Johnson plans to extend the research to the entire state and further testing with cancer patients from all over Alabama, not just the Troy and Montgomery region.