Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder characterised by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. IBS has a high prevalence of up to 15% among the general population in Western countries. The diagnosis of IBS is challenging due to its heterogeneity and multifactorial pathophysiology, therefore, no reliable biomarkers of IBS have been identified so far. Now, researchers from Maastricht University Medical Centre (MUMC) have identified a combination of 16 different substances in the breath that, when measured together, can accurately distinguish IBS patients from people without the condition. The team state that their findings demonstrate the potential use of breath analysis in the diagnosis and monitoring of IBS, and a possible application of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) analyses in a general population cohort. The opensource study is published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
Previous studies show that searches for individual biomarkers in IBS have failed so far, mainly because of the inability to capture the complexity and heterogeneity of IBS and the variation in symptoms. Recent studies show that analysis of exhaled breath is a promising and non-invasive tool in disease diagnosis and monitoring. Hundreds of VOCs are present in human exhaled breath, of which the majority is comparable between individuals. Some compounds, however, differ significantly according to certain states of health or disease. Earlier studies from the lab showed that a set of VOCs can separate healthy controls and patients with active Crohn’s disease and Crohn’s disease in remission. However, whether VOCs analyses have additional value in IBS remains unclear. The current study investigates the use of VOCs analysis of exhaled breath to identify the presence of IBS in both patients affected by the condition and individuals from a general population cohort.
The current study analyzed breath samples from 170 IBS patients and 153 healthy controls, as well as 1307 participants in the general population. Results show that the set of 16 substances correctly predicted 89.4% of the IBS patients and 73.3% of the healthy controls. Data findings show that the breath test was particularly abnormal when patients’ intestinal symptoms were the most severe.
Results show that 16 breath-based biomarkers, that distinguish IBS patients from healthy controls, were identified. Data findings show that the VOC-biomarker set correlated significantly with GI symptoms in two independent cohorts.
The team surmise that their findings show which chemicals in breath have diagnostic information, that can be used to develop noninvasive tools to follow the disease and to steer therapeutic interventions. For the future, the researchers state that this work will definitely make a difference in the quality of life for patients suffering from this functional gastrointestinal disorder.
Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, she specializes in clinical trial innovation--expertise she gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University.