New ‘nanojuice’ could diagnose gut problems

Researchers have developed a juice containing nanoparticles 10,000 times smaller than a human hair to help improve diagnosis of intestinal issues.

Sure, it might not be the most glamorous field of medical research, but it’s an important one. According to the NHS, 10-20% of people experience IBS at some point in their lives, and more severe digestive illnesses like Crohn’s and coeliac disease affect at least 200,000 in the UK and millions more worldwide.

Jonathan Lovell from the State University of New York-Buffalo and his colleagues wanted to make it easier to diagnose gut problems so patients could receive treatment more quickly. Existing options include expensive MRI scans and barium swallow tests, which mean consuming a chalky-tasting drink and then having X-Rays taken to show any areas where obstructions occur.

The ‘nanojuice’ not only coats intestines more finely, it shows up very clearly on ultrasounds, so doctors can get an idea of what’s going on in the gut in real time. Patients just need to drink the juice 10 minutes before the test – and as the particles that show up are so small, I’m assuming there’s little to no chalkiness. Instead, so the liquid isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream straight away, it’s bound to a type of emulsifier sometimes used in cosmetics (which sounds ominous, but the researchers say it’s non-toxic).

It’s so far proved effective at detecting obstructions in mice, and the next step is human trials. Lovell even hopes that down the line, the juice could not only help to diagnose illnesses sooner, but could also use different colours to pinpoint different diseases. (As a bonus, the rainbow-coloured printout you get afterwards will make a great poster.)

Image via Breville USA’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley