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New sensor may be able to detect inflammatory bowel disease


A study published in Biomedical Optics Express describes a sensor which can detect and categorize inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); a diagnosis which is eluded by current trial and error methods.

The sensor is part of a customized endoscope detecting IBD biomarkers that are analyzed by Raman spectroscopy.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University (TN, USA) report that this new technique progresses towards a more personalized approach into disease detection and aids in predicting the efficiency of treatment.

The team utilized tissue samples and animal models to identify IBD biomarkers, which were then analyzed by Raman spectroscopy.

Senior author Anita Mahadevan-Jansen (Vanderbilt University) explains, “With current methods, ultimately the diagnosis is dependent on how the patient responds to therapy over time, and you often don’t know the diagnosis until it’s been a few years…that’s why we decided to use a light-based method to probe the biochemistry of what’s going on in the colon. Our goal is to use Raman spectroscopy to look at the actual inflammatory signals.”

The Raman system consists of a 785nm laser and also features a filter to eliminate the Raman signature which is produced from the probe itself. Researchers tested 15 individuals with the device and results demonstrated high sensitivity in detecting IBD, but poor sensitivity in distinguishing between IBD subtypes.

The two subtypes of IBD (ulcerative collitis and Crohn’s disease) present with similar symptoms making diagnosis difficult, leading to 15% of individuals being undiagnosed.

The new technique, using Raman spectroscopy, detects the different molecular signatures of each subtype, trying to differentiate between the two.

“Most people go through baseline colonoscopy as part of routine care, and you could imagine using this to get a baseline Raman signal for each person…If someone presents with IBD symptoms later on, you can use our system again to determine if it’s more likely to be UC or Crohn’s. Then once they are being treated, you have an objective measure to track their response because you can use the device to actually quantify mild, moderate or severe inflammation” commented Mahadevan-Jansen.

In the future, research aims to improve the specificity of the probe analyzing how different factors influence the Raman signature; such as age, diet and gender. Investigations will also progress to understand changes in the molecular signatures due to treatment, determining if the technique could be used to detect IBD.

Mahadevan-Jansen concludes: “It’s a unique way of thinking about personalized medicine that takes into account all sorts of information — beyond just the genome — including demographics and many other factors that make a person unique…Our lab has really pushed to find ways to apply optical technology to support this kind of personalized medicine.”

Sources: Pence I.J, Beaulieu D.B, Horst S.N et al. Clinical characterization of in vivo inflammatory bowel disease with Raman spectroscopy. Biomedical Optics Express 8(2), 524–535 (2017);



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