New imaging technique brings IBS treatment closer to reality

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Washington: Researchers have found a new way of investigating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes serious inconvenience and discomfort to sufferers, which could have major implications in how it is both diagnosed and treated in the future.

Scientists at The University of Nottingham are leading the world in exploiting MRI technology to assist in the treatment and diagnosis of the disease.

In three separate studies, the researchers examined the effectiveness of using MRI to study the colon, which has a number of unique advantages.

Previously, doctors have relied on x-rays to view the colon, which has limitations due to the risks associated with radiation. By using MRI as an alternative, the researchers have been able to image the bowel continuously with no risk to the patient, enabling them to learn more about the inner workings of the gut.

In the first study scientists studied people with accelerated transit and found that the colon size was rather similar to those with normal transit, suggesting people regulate their bowel habit to keep the colonic size constant.

In the second paper scientists used MRI to measure the actual time it takes for contents to transit the bowel, using specially designed MRI visible markers which subjects ingest.

The researchers said the use of x-rays in this type of procedure is undesirable for children or young women of child rearing age- which is unfortunate as both of these groups can suffer with bowel function that may need investigating. So developing this alternative method of examination has particular appeal, particularly in children- who tend to suffer with a wide range of bowel problems.

In the third study, researchers used the colonic imaging technique again, but this time, to improve their understanding of the causes of IBS.

By looking at fructose, a sugar commonly found in fruit, and fructans, which are polymers of fructose, researchers were able see what effects these had on the gut of healthy volunteers.

"We already know that fructose is difficult to absorb, but the novelty with this new method, is that we are now able to image the end effect of this mal-absorption which is the distension of the small intestine and colon. We are currently repeating these studies in patients with IBS to see whether their symptoms correlate with the distension of the colon," Professor Robin Spiller said.

The study was published in American Journal of Gastroenterology.