Researchers in the U.S. have made an important discovery that may soon help to identify inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) earlier and predict its behavior, which could benefit treatment.
Chandra Mohan, a researcher at the University of Houston, in Texas, and Subra Kugathasan, a gastroenterologist at Emory University, in Atlanta, received a $347,490 grant from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to identify potential protein biomarkers of IBD in stool samples from patients.
Mohan’s expertise in autoimmune diseases, particularly lupus, and Kugathasan’s knowledge of IBD are expected to contribute to research that aims to better predict and monitor the disease, according to a news release.
“With the right biomarkers, we could be in the position to predict the diseases even before a diagnosis is made using conventional approaches,” said Mohan, who is a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen endowed professor of biomedical engineering.
For two decades, only one protein present in the stool, called fecal calprotectin, was found to predict IBD. However, its specificity and sensitivity are not optimal for predicting the diseases, Mohan said.
Previously, no one had looked for other stool proteins to track IBD. So, Mohan and doctoral student Sanam Soomro set out to study the levels of 1,100 different proteins in IBD stool samples supplied by Kugathasan.
Of the 1,100 proteins studied, the team identified 50 that consistently had elevated levels in IBD stools. The results suggest an easier and less invasive method to diagnose IBD could be around the corner, instead of the more invasive endoscopy and colonoscopy.
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a noninvasive stool test to help diagnose IBD, based on fecal calprotectin. Using stool proteins to predict IBD seems to work better than using other body fluids, researchers said.
Regarding the proteins recently identified by Mohan and his team, the researcher said, “This one is really good because we see really high levels, and they are crystal clear compared to healthy control stools – so we know something is going on there.”
With a more sensitive test, a patient already diagnosed with IBD could find out early if the disease is flaring or the symptoms are transient. This could lead to quicker treatment.
Researchers hope that in the future, the biomarker could be used in a self-care or easy-care kit, in which patients would know immediately what was happening with their disease. This type of kit would be similar to the saliva test and home-test kit for lupus that Mohan’s team is creating.
“If we have the right biomarkers, this has the potential to be a major breakthrough,” Mohan said.