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A new way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease

Scientists in Australia have developed a precise new way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease using nuclear medicine.

A study recently published in The Journal of Nuclear Medicine discusses how to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease in a quicker, more efficient way by categorizing inflammatory markers. Researchers used immuno-positron emission tomography (Immuno-PET) to image antibodies that target specific immune cell markers, allowing them to analyze inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in mice. This imaging not only helps to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease but also has the potential to improve the treatment of IBD as well as other inflammatory diseases.

What is IBD?

IBD is identified by chronic inflammation of the lower gastrointestinal tract and includes conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis These patients need to consistently monitor their disease states because of ongoing flare-up symptoms in addition to having an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

How is this new diagnosis of IBD different?

Typically, IBD is diagnosed via endoscopy, which is an invasive procedure and fails to provide information about specific immune cell markers.  An ideal approach to diagnosing IBD would be a less invasive procedure that is comfortable for patients, that could also be used for diagnosis when inflamed areas of the gastrointestinal tract are not able to be seen through the endoscope.

Using immuno-PET to diagnose ulcerative colitis

In this study, Immuno-PET imaging was used to assess mice with ulcerative colitis and compare them with healthy mice. Immuno-PET imaging showed that mice with ulcerative colitis had more inflammatory markers further down their colons, ranging from three-times more to five-times more compared to healthy mice. Furthermore, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the intensity of inflammation signals in mice with ulcerative colitis compared to healthy mice. Lastly, there was a correlation between the increase in inflammation found with this new imaging technique and percentage body weight loss, even though this was not the case when utilizing MRI.

What does this mean for the future of IBD?

This study found that immuno-PET was superior to MRI in finding markers of inflammation, in order to more efficiently diagnose and monitor IBD. The majority of therapies used to treat IBD target specific inflammatory markers and this new technology can be used to predict how well these therapies might work without performing invasive endoscopies.

Written by Tatsiana Verstak, M.S., B.S.


Ng SC, et al. Worldwide incidence and prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease in the 21st century: a systematic review of population-based studies. Lancet. 2018 Dec 23;390(10114):2769-2778. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32448-0.

Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. Immuno-PET precisely diagnoses IBD inflammation without invasive procedures. EurekAlert. 17-JUN-2019.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay



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