Simple new test can detect gut illnesses

Researchers have developed a less invasive and cheaper test to detect gut illnesses.

breath test

Angela Skujins                                     

Australian researchers have developed a less invasive and cheaper test to detect gastro-intestinal illnesses – a breath sample.    

The new method developed at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, would reduce the number of invasive procedures such as endoscopies. Instead, patients with gut problems would be diagnosed by simply measuring the amount of the Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4) enzyme found in their breath.

Lead researcher Dr Roger Yazbek said the specific DPP4 enzyme is produced in the small intestine and breaks down dietary proteins that have been associated with coeliac disease and associated gut damage.

“This breath test represents a potentially new way to non-invasively measure gut health,” Dr Yazbek said.

“Not only will these tests improve patient quality of life, but potentially save the healthcare system time and money, particularly if adapted for point-of-care testing in rural and remote areas.”

Dr Yazbek said the DPP4 test started with a patient drinking a “special liquid” and then blowing into a vial through a straw.

The breath sample is then examined on an isotope ratio mass spectrometer for the DPP4 enzyme.

Coeliac patients have a lowered level of the enzyme, which is linked to difficulty in breaking down gluten.

In Australia, while about 400,000 endoscopic procedures are performed at a cost of almost $500 million, more than 15 per cent of these procedures are deemed unnecessary.

Dr Yazbek said endoscopies or colonoscopies can be considered a waste of time and energy for the patient and the healthcare system.

“A patient may visit a doctor because they’re feeling some abdominal pain or chest pains,” he said.

“So an endoscopy might be prescribed, and it turns out that there’s nothing there. A lot of those procedures are deemed low care so they’re not really providing any significant benefit to the patient.”

Dr Yazbek said invasive procedures such as these were also stressful, particularly to children.

“I worked in a hospital and I would often go into the recovery room after kids had received an endoscopy, and it was often a traumatic experience,” he said.

“They’re waking up in a strange environment and they’ve just had a procedure – where they’ve had to have that tube go down their throat – and they’re in a little bit of pain from that.

“To be able to reduce the anxiety that’s associated with that procedure is very beneficial.”

Dr Yazbek said he was also encouraged to develop the breath test after watching family members suffer through countless procedures.

“One of my family members has gastric cancer and she’s gone through diagnosis, surgery and all those procedures and someone else close to me has had many colonoscopies,” he said.

“When you look at what they have to go through, it drives you to try to discover better options for them.”

Dr Yazbek and his team of Flinders University researchers are about to start trials for the test at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide with a view to commercialising the diagnosis method within a decade.

The research was funded by the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation and is one of several projects by Dr Yazbek and the SA Breath Analysis Research Laboratories seeking to replace invasive endoscopic procedures with high-tech validated breath tests to accurately test and treat various human conditions, including cancer.

The research was published in international journal Scientific Reports.

Do you have regular colonoscopies or endoscopies? Have you had problems with these procedures?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    4th Apr 2019
    These breathe test have been available for a number of years now but you have to stop taking medications like nexium for a fortnight before you can have them done.
    4th Apr 2019
    July last year I had a colonoscopy and I've been on a series of them due to an earlier one discovering a malignant polyp. The last colonoscopy also discovered another polyp but it was not malignant. When I had my referral to the specialist July last year I was charged an extra $72.00 for a breath test on top of the $140 specialist consultation.
    This test was called " Item No. 12533 CARBON LABELLED UREA BREATH TEST": As mentioned in this article I had to drink a cup full of liquid wait half an hour for it to take effect and then blow very hard into a cardboard tube. Sit a while longer and then I was given the results of the test. I presume the above test is similar to what I was given? I was told it was a test for my gut. I didn't have to proceed with the gastroscopy planned for the same time as the colonoscopy. Maybe the test I had is in its infancy? Ten years before commercialisation seems an awful long time if it is already available now. Maybe it is not quite the same test as I had?
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2019
    Just eat well and you wont have a problem.
    4th Apr 2019
    That's a very ill-informed response, Old Geezer. Some people have a very healthy diet and exercise regime and still have digestive ailments. Show a little respect and empathy. Good health is a blessing. Yes, it's easy to be unhealthy for no better reason than a poor lifestyle, but some people are born with ailments or vulnerabilities and nothing can prevent them having health issues.
    4th Apr 2019
    I agree OG, diet plays a big part in being healthy and not getting gut issues. Feeding your gut lots of healthy fresh fruit and veggies especially some raw green leafy veg will give you the correct balance in your gut. Eating too much process food and too much animal products is a recipe for disaster.
    5th Apr 2019
    Codswallop Old Geezer.
    Have always followed a healthy diet, was actually vegetarian for many years, was told my iron levels were very low and needed weekly injections - after a couple of years of that decided it was easier to just eat meat which has brought my levels up to acceptable range.

    Being brought up in the country in the 1950's we did not have the money nor the amount of crap that is available today. But this has not stopped me from being diagnosed with both dairy and gluten intolerance. Which apparently have had since I was a child, although it was not discovered until was an adult.

    Some people are just predisposed to having gut problems regardless of what they eat or do not eat.
    4th Apr 2019
    Having suffered with IBS for a number of years and curing myself I know that changing diet and lifestyle is the best way for a proper cure, but prevention is even better. Doctors never helped me, all they wanted to do is send me for more tests and offer medication that would have made it worse, I even had antibiotics for helicobacter which set me back months into my healing, will never take them again unless it was a life or death situation. Keeping your immune system healthy with fresh wholefood diet, lots of fruit and veg and some raw leafy greens everyday. The fodmap free diet helped me too which I did for awhile it got me over the worst of my symptoms.

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