The use of fecal samples in diagnostics and health monitoring is on the cusp of a breakthrough, as the scientific community has started to harness the data that can be found in fecal samples.
The human gastrointestinal tract and the gut microbiome
The gastrointestinal tract is constantly working — digesting food and absorbing nutrients, excreting waste products, and also working as a part of our immune system. Because it is constantly at work digesting and sorting through all the different substances our body produces, the changes in our GI tract are a real-time representation of our lifestyle and changes in our health.
Our digestive tract is home to hundreds of billions of viruses, bacteria, and viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria, called phages. Together, these viruses, bacteria and other microbes are often collectively referred to as the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota is always looking for the perfect balance, which can be obtained and maintained through the correct dietary choices. An imbalance of the gut microbiota, however, can have an impact on the risk of developing serious health disorders like IBD and cancer. The continuous imbalance of the gut microbiota is referred to as dysbiosis.
Antibiotics alter and can severely disturb the microbiota, often leading to dysbiosis. However, there is no established method to proficiently measure the effects of antibiotics on the gut microbiota. At Aqsens Health, we are currently looking for partnerships to start a research project to establish a method for detecting these changes caused by antibiotics.
Monitoring the changes in our gut microbiota gives us a lot of information about the things that are happening inside our bodies. The arguably richest source for this data are our feces.
Rich in data — characteristics of a fecal sample
Similarly to urine, fecal samples give a detailed overview of the current health of our body and digestive tract. In addition to water and indigestible food matter like cellulose, human feces contain dead bacteria, iron phosphates and proteins, cell debris, and dead white blood cells. So it’s safe to say that our feces are packed with information, and that they are the richest source of data about our body in its present state.
Fecal samples have most of the same advantages as urine samples do — they are relatively easy to collect and cheaper than blood samples. Typically, diseases of the digestive tract, like IBD, are diagnosed using fecal samples. For other diseases, the research work is still in its early stages.
From the point of view of health technology research, feces offer the richest but also most challenging sample quality. One gram of a fecal sample contains over 1 billion viruses and the largest number of biomarkers and other significant molecules compared to other biological matrixes. Today, we are on the right track in discovering new connections between disease indicators and diseases through the study of fecal samples.
E-TRF and the Aqsens approach
The fecal sample studies at Aqsens Health have focused on the detection of severe diseases of the digestive tract — cancers like colorectal, stomach, liver and bowel cancer, and IBD. Often the first trace of these diseases is the presence of blood in the stool. Our E-TRF method can detect even minuscule traces of blood in the sample very quickly. When biomarkers of different diseases like cancer are added to the analysis, Aqsens Health’s E-TRF method can be developed to be extremely accurate in screening and diagnostics of different diseases of the digestive tract.
At Aqsens Health, our research on fecal samples follows a similar pattern as our other studies— presentative numbers of samples are analysed against clinical diagnosis and then discussed with leading researchers in the respective fields. The current focus of the research on fecal samples is IBD. Reducing the need for invasive endoscopic procedures is a major benefit both in expenses of a single diagnosis, and the health of a patient, as colonoscopies can worsen the IBD-patients symptoms.
When applied to fecal sample analysis, E-TRF can offer clinicians new perspectives in research to help solve obstacles that have stagnated research projects, as well as provide new possibilities for screening in preventive healthcare.
Chief Scientific Officer
Aqsens Health Oy