New test for IBS and ulcerative colitis delivers faster, more accurate results

UAlberta researchers develop urine test able to quickly and accurately identify the two conditions.

Andrew Lyle - 25 April 2019

A new urine test developed by University of Alberta scientists can differentiate between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis with 99 per cent accuracy, according to a new study.

IBS and ulcerative colitis have similar symptoms, which makes getting an accurate initial diagnosis difficult.

"Our goal was to create a test that would allow doctors to quickly tell which patients have which condition so that they can start receiving the proper treatment," said David Wishart, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Computing Science and collaborator on the study. "And we've found the results were exceptional. It's very rare to find tests that have such a high level of performance."

Better, faster, healthcare

Approximately 104,000 Canadians live with ulcerative colitis and three out of ten Canadians will experience IBS at some point in their life.

"In the case of IBS and ulcerative colitis, the conditions' symptoms overlap quite a bit, but their treatment and their causes are different," explained.Wishart, who is also a professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry's Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology and an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. "You don't want to be diagnosing or treating people for the wrong one."

Accurately differentiating between the two conditions usually takes weeks or months of rigorous follow-up visits, which can delay beginning the correct treatment. A quicker diagnosis means earlier treatment and improvement in patient care outcomes.

While the test is still in development and not yet available to the public, it's just one example of how molecular science is enabling new advances in precision healthcare.

"Precision medicine allows us to look at molecular indicators in the body. It can be metabolites, genes, proteins, bacteria in the gut-all of those are measurable now," said Wishart. "It's allowing us to create tests like these and improve the lives of patients."

The paper, "Comparison of the metabolomic profiles of irritable bowel syndrome patients with ulcerative colitis patients and healthy controls: new insights into pathophysiology and potential biomarkers," was published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics (doi: 10.1111/apt.15141)