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Non-Invasive Gut Tests Could Help Diagnose Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colon Cancer

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 15 Feb 2024
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Image: Mucus contains vital data to help address inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: Mucus contains vital data to help address inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

New research is set to simplify and make gut health monitoring less invasive by focusing on an often-ignored yet readily available source: the mucus in our digestive tract that ultimately becomes part of fecal matter.

Researchers at UBC Okanagan (Kelowna, BC, Canada) have developed a method to analyze vital gut health markers from fecal-adherent mucus, essentially the mucus that adheres to stool. This mucus, typically discarded in stool, is actually rich in data about gut health. The team has pioneered a non-invasive approach to study MUC2, a key protein found in the stool that plays a significant role in gut health. MUC2 is a glycoprotein with numerous sugar chains that creates a protective mucus barrier in the intestines. This barrier is essential for defending the gut against harmful microbes and toxins and is integral to digestive health.

Previously, it was believed that this crucial molecule could only be extracted through invasive and painful methods like biopsies or surgical tissue removal. However, this study has revealed that mucus is a natural component of human stool, meaning it can be painlessly obtained and at levels not possible before at any time and that too non-invasively. A deeper understanding of MUC2 could pave the way for breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of gut-related diseases, potentially improving the daily health of millions.

“MUC2 is like the silent star in our guts. It’s constantly working to protect us, and its proper functioning is crucial for our overall health,” said researcher Dr. Kirk Bergstrom. “We can use these new methods to visualize mucus-microbiota interactions and how they go wrong in various diseases, like inflammatory bowel diseases and colon cancer.”

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