Biomarkers linked to IBD flareups can be monitored through sweat
Human sweat contains all sorts of chemicals that can be used to monitor our health, and scientists are looking to tap into this with devices that track everything from stress to blood sugar levels. Researchers have now found two new biomarkers in sweat that are associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and have produced a prototype wearable device that could track their levels as a way of warning users of impending flareups.
Inflammatory bowel disease affects millions of people in the US alone, and sees the body’s immune system respond to non-threatening objects like food and bacteria by attacking the digestive system, causing inflammation. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain and diarrhea, and a team from the University of Texas at Dallas has been looking at ways to give sufferers some forewarning of when such discomforts are on the way.
As part of this investigation, the researchers turned their attention to cytokines, which are substances secreted by immune cells and play a role in the inflammatory flareups associated with inflammatory bowel disease. More specifically, the team focused on two key markers of this type of inflammation: cytokine interleukin-1β and C-reactive protein (CRP).
While the role of these biomarkers in driving inflammation has been well studied, it has never been proven that they can both be detected in sweat. In fact, it has never been established that CRP is even present in human sweat, so the University of Texas at Dallas team’s discoveries are significant on a couple of fronts.
The researchers applied a prototype wristwatch-like device to 20 healthy volunteers to collect and analyze passive sweat, meaning the technique required no physical exertion by the subjects. The device proved capable of detecting and quantifying both interleukin-1β and C-reactive protein in the sweat samples, demonstrating that the biomarkers can be monitored in this way and also helping establish what their levels look like in healthy patients.
“It’s like the check-engine light in a car,” says principal investigator Dr. Shalini Prasad. “The warning signal doesn’t mean a patient is having a flare-up, but it could give the person the chance to intervene earlier, when the symptoms may be more responsive to treatment. The device also could help doctors understand sooner whether a treatment is working.”
The discovery of these new biomarkers could have ramifications beyond inflammatory bowel disease. Cytokines are released by the immune system in a range of scenarios, including viral infections, so the researchers believe the technique could also prove useful in tracking other diseases and conditions. They now plan to continue investigating the approach through a second phase of research involving patient volunteers.
“A wearable microsensor device would have the potential to empower patients to be actively engaged in monitoring their disease and managing it,” says Dr. Gerard Honig, associate director of research innovation for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, which funded the research. “It would greatly facilitate clinical research and potentially could be used in the long term to facilitate proactive management, where you have a target biomarker level you’re trying to achieve over a certain period of time and you optimize care to get there.”
The research was published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
Source: University of Texas at Dallas