A new and improved microbiome-based diagnostic strategy can help doctors deliver personalized treatments to children with irritable bowel syndrome

Researchers find a new and improved diagnostic tool to help physicians pinpoint the underlying causes contributing to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in pediatric patients with greater accuracy and precision. The hope is that this information will allow targeted treatments for children with this chronic condition.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, was led by Dr. James Versalovic, who serves as pathologist-in-chief and director of the Microbiome Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor and Vice Chair of Pathology & Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine.  

In this collaborative study, researchers created a diagnostic classifier that is a battery of meta-genomic and metabolic tests, and able to distinguish children suffering IBS from healthy children with 80 percent accuracy. Using this new disease classifier they were also able to precisely correlate abdominal pain to the presence or absence of specific microbes or metabolites in children suffering from IBS. Moreover, they found that different groups of microbes or metabolites contribute to IBS symptoms in adult and pediatric patients.

IBS is a disruptive, chronic gastrointestinal condition characterized by bloating, changes in bowel habits, and debilitating abdominal pain, that affects up to 20 percent of the world’s population. Recurrent IBS-related abdominal pain is common among school-aged children and there is a clinical need for better diagnostic and clinical management strategies.

Increasing evidence shows that onset and symptoms of IBS are related to a person’s gut microbiome. Although it is known that deficiencies or excesses of specific gut microbes or metabolites can lead to IBS symptoms, there is little consensus in the medical community about the types of microbes or metabolites that are affected in IBS patients and how they contribute to the symptoms.

This study reports a new clinically-relevant and impactful diagnostic test to diagnose IBS in children. The researchers found this approach is significantly better in terms of accuracy and precision, compared to the diagnostic methods currently in use for IBS.

The newly developed classifier will help physicians perform a comprehensive analysis of the types of bacteria residing in the patient’s gut, as well as provide information about which microbial genes, specific metabolites and functional cellular pathways are dysregulated. This strategy will help physicians identify specific factors that are likely contributing to IBS symptoms in childhood.

In addition, this study also provides crucial insights on how alterations in the human intestinal microbiome contribute to abdominal pain, and how this information could be used in the future to develop effective therapies to reduce abdominal pain with minimal undesirable side effects.

Armed with these crucial pieces of information, physicians will be able to tailor a personalized treatment plan that will help to restore specific imbalances in a child’s gut microbiome and/or metabolism. The researchers are hopeful that this approach will help physicians offer future targeted solutions to pediatric patients for immediate and long-term relief from the symptoms of IBS.

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