Scientists make your stomach turn bright green if you have an ulcer

This is a photo of Silvia Fontenente. Credit: Birgitte Svennevig/SDU

Doctors may soon be able to diagnose stomach ulcers without taking tissue samples from the stomach. Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark now report to have developed a new, safer and noninvasive diagnostic technique for ulcers. The trick is to make the ulcer-causing bacteria in the gut light up in fluorescent green.

Each year, many patients are examined for ulcers, and this is often done by retrieving a tissue sample from the . This requires that the doctor sends an instrument down into the patient´s stomach, and the patient must wait for the tissue sample to be analyzed before the doctor can give information about a possible ulcer.

Now researchers from University of Southern Denmark are developing a diagnostic technique that makes it possible to detect the ulcer instantly. It shortens the patient's unease and it improves the doctor's opportunity for early diagnosis.

"Early diagnosis does not only prevent ulcers from developing, it can also prevent the development of cancer", says Ph.D. student Silvia Fontenete from the Nucleic Acid Center at the University of Southern Denmark/Laboratory for Process Engineering, Environment, Biotechnology and Energy, University of Porto in Portugal. She is the lead author of an article on the research results in journals PLOS ONE.

Ulcers are often caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which produces ulcers in the stomach or duodenum. Usually the doctor retrieves a tissue sample from the stomach and has it analyzed. You can also take a breath test, where molecules in the patient's breath are analyzed, but this technique is not always reliable, says Silvia Fontenete.

Scientists have for some time been able to make tissue samples from the stomach glow fluorescent green if the tissue is infected with H. pylori bacteria. For this the scientist will need to retrieve a piece of the stomach for analysis in the laboratory.

The researchers' new approach is to make the stomach glow bright fluorescent green WITHOUT taking from it.

"Our laboratory experiments suggest that one day it will be possible for doctors to send some specially designed molecules down in the stomach, where they will make H. pylori glow brightly green", explains Silvia Fontenete.

To see the green light the doctor will send a small micro-camera into the stomach.

The scientists report to have made H. pylori glow green in artificial tissue in the laboratory - this was tissue that mimics the lining of the human stomach.

"We believe that the same can happen in a real human stomach", says Silvia Fontenete.

To achieve their results, the researchers had to overcome two major challenges: The first challenge was to create the special molecules that can both detect H. pylori bacteria and function at approx. 37 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature of the human stomach. The second challenge was that the molecule should be able to function in the extremely acidic environment of the stomach.

Both challenges were solved by working with the so-called Locked Nucleic Acid (LNA), some special synthetic molecules developed by Silvia Fontenente's research director, Professor Jesper Wengel at University of Southern Denmark. LNA are artificial RNA-like molecules which can bind to microRNA molecules. They are extremely stable and can operate at lower temperatures and in more acidic environments than other molecules.

"We have been lucky: The first I created turned out to do the job right away. I could have been more unfortunate, and it would have taken several years", says Silvia Fontenete.

More information: Fontenete, Sílvia; Guimarães, Nuno; Leite, Marina; Figueiredo, Céu; Wengel, Jesper; Azevedo, Nuno Filipe. Hybridization based detection of Helicobacter pylori at human body temperature using advanced locked nucleic acid (LNA) probes. PLOS ONE (2013), 8(11).

Related Stories

Scientists solve a sticky problem

Jan 06, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have uncovered how an ulcer causing stomach bacteria, that has been linked to gastric cancer, sticks to and infects the lining of the stomach and gut.

H. pylori vaccine shows promise in mouse studies

Dec 19, 2013

Researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangdong, Guangzhou, China, have developed an oral vaccine against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers and some forms of gastric cancer, and ha ...

The 700-year-old Mexican mummy with a tummy ache

Jul 15, 2008

Remnants of the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, Helicobacter pylori, (H. pylori) have been discovered in gastric tissue from North American mummies. A study of human remains believed to predate Colum ...

Recommended for you

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

5 minutes ago

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

US orders farms to report pig virus infections

Apr 18, 2014

The U.S. government is starting a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of a virus that has killed millions of pigs since showing up in the country last year.

Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

Apr 18, 2014

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Apr 18, 2014

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

New clues on tissue scarring in scleroderma

Apr 18, 2014

A discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists could lead to potential new treatments for breaking the cycle of tissue scarring in people with scleroderma.

User comments