FDA approves breath test for stomach disorder, highlights its ease of use over standard of care

The FDA just approved a diagnostic for a troublesome stomach disorder that is easy to perform and does not use radioactive materials, imaging equipment or specialized interpretation.

The Gastric Emptying Breath Test (GEBT), developed by Tennessee's Advanced Breath Diagnostics, can diagnose gastroparesis, which occurs when muscles in the stomach don't contract properly, leading to a slowdown or stoppage of the movement of food to the small intestine. The FDA says the disorder can lead to dehydration due to persistent vomiting, as well as malnutrition.

Alberto Gutierrez

"The GEBT is another option for aiding in the diagnosis of gastroparesis," said Alberto Gutierrez, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA's device arm (CDRH), in a statement. "It can be performed in any clinical setting since it does not require the health care professionals administering the test to undergo special training or to take special precautions related to radiation emitting compounds."

After an overnight fast, patients undergoing the test eat a specialized meal containing scrambled eggs and Spirulina platensis, a protein that contains added carbon-13, an isotope of carbon that accounts for just 1% of all naturally occurring carbon. Carbon-12 accounts for the rest.

The GEBT measures the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 at various points in time to determine how quickly the stomach is emptying food, the FDA says.

The 115-subject clinical trial compared GEBT to gastric scintigraphy, the standard of care for measuring gastric emptying; it requires ingestion of a meal containing radioactive material as well as imaging equipment, and so must be conducted in a specialized outpatient center. The trial found that the breath test results concurred with the results from scintigraphy 73% to 97% of the time.

The FDA says there were no deaths or serious adverse events during the trial. Some participants experienced nausea or stomach discomfort.

The approval is a win for patient convenience and lower healthcare costs, though perhaps not increased accuracy.

- here's the FDA's announcement