Bodily odours offer new diagnostic possibilities

Dr Mark Pharaoh and Dr Ramesh Arasaradnam, a lecturer at Warwick Medical School and gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwick, have been using a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, a technology designed by the motor manufacturing industry, to diagnose and manage inflammatory bowel conditions.

Fermentation of undigested foods in the colon by its resident bacteria affects not only colonic health but influences metabolic health, which if knocked out of balance can cause complications such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But in the past collecting data about the fermentation and the gasses it produces has proved difficult. It was quite by chance that a colleague in the engineering department told Drs Pharoah and Arasaradnam, about the machine they used for measuring volatiles in the car industry and they realised that they could use the same technology to assess bodily waste gases.

They collected and measured samples from healthy and sick individuals, as well as from horses and cows and early results seem to indicate that there is clearly a difference between healthy subjects and those with certain diseases such as Crohn's disease and colitis, which come under the umbrella of an inflammatory type bowel. They hope that the technology may be adapted to diagnose other conditions such as diabetes and obesity as the bugs that lie in the bowels of the obese are clearly distinct from those in lean people.

The research is not expected to be in general use for several years.

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First Publishd in December 2009

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