New blood test screens for irritable bowel syndrome

Here's a very basic finding with potentially large implications: Researchers have come up with a blood test to screen for a biomarker that seems to indicate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The advance, by a team from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, offers a potential way to improve care and control healthcare costs at the same time.

In the era of the Affordable Care Act, it has become increasingly important for makers of diagnostic tests to prove that their products can accomplish both goals. Providers and insurers are demanding this in order to slow or even reverse the relentless increase in healthcare costs. One way this can be done, many believe, is by finding ways to reduce unnecessary (and often expensive) diagnostic testing. That's where the team's finding comes in.

A viable blood test for IBS can help patients avoid more widespread and pricey diagnostic testing for more serious gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lead author Dr. Mark Pimental said during the American College of Gastroenterology's recent 78th Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego, CA. (The ACG announced the research.) As many as 15% of the adult population in the U.S. suffer from IBS symptoms, but only between 5% to 7% have been properly diagnosed, according to data cited by the ACG.

"This is a major breakthrough as the first test to potentially distinguish IBS from IBD and reduce the need for unnecessary testing in these conditions," Pimental said in a statement.

The researchers evaluated 165 patients with IBS, 30 with IBD, and 26 healthy control subjects. They found that antivinculin antibodies are higher in patients with IBS compared to those without the condition. Vinculin is a cell migration and adherence protein found in nerves and epithelium, the researchers explained.

Of course, IBS can have multiple causes. But if future research backs up the initial results, the potential biomarker test can help identify many patients with the condition who previously lacked a diagnostic test option. In addition to eliminating the need for more diagnostic testing, such a targeted test opens the door for targeted treatments. In the end, the new blood test could create a wide range of benefits for patients and the healthcare system at large. 

- read the release

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