Fluorescence gives doctors a real-time connection with the health of the gut

medibeacon monitor 1694276767788 x2
NIHR Imperial BRC Researchers from the Digestive Diseases Theme and US medical technology company MediBeacon have partnered to advance a non-invasive method of assessing intestinal health. In healthy people, the wall of the intestine forms a barrier between the contents of the gut and the rest of the body, with only the nutrients produced by digestion passing through. If the intestine becomes more permeable or ‘leaky’, other molecules or bacteria from the gut may also get through, producing inflammation and other medical problems. This means that methods for effectively measuring intestinal permeability are of great interest for the management of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. Research at Imperial supported by NIHR Imperial BRC funding has produced important insights into non-invasive methods of measuring gastric emptying and intestinal permeability, using fluorescent agents whose movement through the body can be detected through the skin.

transdermal sensor on finger
Imperial’s experimental prototype measures light from fluorescent chemicals in the blood through skin on the finger.

The Imperial team asked clinical trial participants to drink a small dose of a fluorescent dye and measured the resulting fluorescence signals through the skin, which increase as the fluorescent dye leaks out of the gut into the bloodstream. By analysing the data, the team demonstrated the ability to non-invasively measure important aspects of intestinal function.

Now, Imperial has partnered with MediBeacon, a US medical technology company that has extensive experience in optimising transdermal diagnostic methods for a range of medical conditions, including measurement of intestinal permeability.

“The area of intestinal permeability as a mainstream diagnostic in clinical practice is a new concept,” says Steven Hanley, MediBeacon’s Chief Executive. “We are pleased to add Imperial to our team of collaborators in this important area of clinical development.”

A one-dye method

Existing techniques to measure gut permeability tend to be cumbersome and unreliable. Typically, they involve giving patients a dose of two sugar molecules, one a small molecule and one a large molecule, and measuring the ratio of the two in the urine. This ratio changes along with permeability.

  • Dr Alex Thompson
    Dr Alex Thompson
    Lecturer in Sensing in Cancer