Simple Blood Test Possible for Detecting Ulcerative Colitis

Infrared spectroscopy and blood samples provide cheaper, less invasive screening alternative for inflammatory bowel disease.

Low-cost diagnostic tools for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are lacking, but a simple blood test and infrared technology could detect the presence of disease and reduce the need for colonoscopies.

New study findings published in the Journal of Biophotonics suggest a novel testing procedure could be developed to help physicians more easily screen for ulcerative colitis.

IBD—–which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease—–affects an estimated 1.6 million individuals in the United States. Adults 50 years and older are expected to undergo a colonoscopy to search for any abnormalities in the intestine, which is a costly procedure.

“Colonoscopy is used as a screening technique, so even if you don’t know if a person has colitis or not, that’s currently the only way to clearly check and say they do,” said investigator Dr A.G. Unil Perera. “We are not talking about replacing colonoscopy. We have shown that a minimally invasive blood test can tell if a patient has an indication of colitis. Then, doctors can perform a colonoscopy to see how far the disease has spread and whether there are signs of cancer.”

The screening only requires a simple finger prick to obtain a blood sample and infrared spectroscopy. Furthermore, it is faster, less invasive, and less costly compared with a colonoscopy.

For the study, the investigators used 2 groups of mice split between chronic colitis and acute colitis. Mice with chronic colitis—–interleukin 10 mice––had a gene modification that allowed them to develop colitis, whereas mice with acute colitis were administered dextran sodium sulfate (DSS) in their drinking water for 7 days. The control group was mice before they were fed DSS.

Blood and fecal samples were collected from both the control and colitis groups. The investigators performed Attenuated Total Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy on the blood samples, then compared the control and colitis blood samples using ATR-FTIR absorbance spectra to determine differences between the samples.

“We have identified 9 places where there are differences,” Dr Perera said.

The investigators plan to increase the number of samples in the future to confirm the accuracy of their findings. According to Perera, they will likely find out all 9 absorbance peaks are unnecessary to identify mice with colitis.

“In addition, the use of ATR-FTIR spectroscopy on serum samples could identify spectral signatures specifically predicting the development of colitis, thereby positively affecting drug management,” said investigator Dr Didier Merlin. “We also anticipate that the use of this method will be able to evaluate human serum samples to identify spectral signatures that can distinguish between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”

Dr Perera noted that they could design detectors for only the necessary narrow peaks.

“That way a doctor’s office should be able to afford the test and add it to existing blood tests, since people usually don’t worry too much about giving a little bit of blood,” Dr Perera said. “Around the world, this is even more critical because colonoscopy is very, very expensive and people may not have access. This technique can also lead to other applications, like screening for cancer and other diseases.”