McMaster University researchers have identified new biomarkers for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in urine, which is expected to improve treatment and cut down the need for expensive colonoscopy procedures.

Even though IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of people and its diagnosis is complicated, very little is known about the cause of the disease.

Researchers carried out metabolite profiling studies to compare urine samples from a group of IBS patients with a group of healthy adults. They discovered distinctive and elevated metabolic signatures in IBS patients.

Researchers found that several metabolites were related to collagen degradation, which is believed to be derived from the gut, indicating that the elastic lining in the colon has been impaired, affecting its normal function.

According to the McMaster University researchers, the findings could also allow for routine treatment monitoring of IBS patients, which could also be used for validating the efficacy of dietary and / or pharmacological interventions.

The scientists are now working to discover new biomarkers in urine that could distinguish between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in children so that future colonoscopies could be prevented.

This is also expected to enable rapid screening and early detection of chronic gut disorders more accurately and at a lower cost.

Lead author of the study and professor in McMaster’s department of chemistry and chemical biology Philip Britz-McKibbin said: “Diagnostic testing for IBS involves a long process of excluding other related gut disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

“We were interested in finding if there is a better way to detect and monitor IBS that avoids invasive colonoscopy procedures while also giving us better insights into its underlying mechanisms.”

The study was carried out in collaboration with Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Unit associate professor in the department of medicine and researcher Dr Premysl Bercik.

Published in the journal Metabolomics, the study was part-funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Genome Canada.