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Drinking that nanojuice so doctors noninvasively can examine your gut?

Help is on the way. 'Nanojuice' could improve how doctors examine the gut. It may help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal illnesses. Patients would drink the 'nanojuice' like water. Described July 6, 2014 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the advancement could help doctors better identify, understand and treat gastrointestinal ailments. Are you plagued by irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or other issues with your small intestine, and doctors are finding it difficult to examine it noninvasively? Perhaps you don't know whether an adverse reaction to a particular type of food or grain is the cause or some other problem. The study is, "Non-invasive multimodal functional imaging of the intestine with frozen micellar naphthalocyanines," Nature Nanotechnology. You also may wish to check out an article that explains in plain language how bacteria influences the food that travels through your intestines, "Intestinal bacteria influence food transit through the gut."

Patients would drink the 'nanojuice' like water. 'Nanojuice' could improve how doctors examine the gut.
Photo credit: Jonathan Lovell. Patients would drink the 'nanojuice' like water. 'Nanojuice' could improve how doctors examine the gut.

Located deep in the human gut, the small intestine is not easy to examine. X-rays, MRIs and ultrasound images provide snapshots but each suffers limitations. University at Buffalo researchers are developing a new imaging technique involving nanoparticles suspended in liquid to form 'nanojuice' that patients would drink. Upon reaching the small intestine, doctors would strike the nanoparticles with a harmless laser light, providing an unparalleled, non-invasive, real-time view of the organ.

"Conventional imaging methods show the organ and blockages, but this method allows you to see how the small intestine operates in real time," said corresponding author Jonathan Lovell, PhD, according to a July 6, 2014 news release, "'Nanojuice' could improve how doctors examine the gut." Lovell is a University at Buffalo (UB) assistant professor of biomedical engineering. "Better imaging will improve our understanding of these diseases and allow doctors to more effectively care for people suffering from them."

The average human small intestine is roughly 23 feet long and 1 inch thick

Sandwiched between the stomach and large intestine, it is where much of the digestion and absorption of food takes place. It's also where symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn's disease and other gastrointestinal illnesses occur.

To assess the organ, doctors typically require patients to drink a thick, chalky liquid called barium. Doctors then use X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasounds to assess the organ, but these techniques are limited with respect to safety, accessibility and lack of adequate contrast, respectively.

Also, none are highly effective at providing real-time imaging of movement such as peristalsis, which is the contraction of muscles that propels food through the small intestine. Dysfunction of these movements may be linked to the previously mentioned illnesses, as well as side effects of thyroid disorders, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Lovell and a team of researchers worked with a family of dyes called naphthalcyanines. These small molecules absorb large portions of light in the near-infrared spectrum, which is the ideal range for biological contrast agents. They are unsuitable for the human body, however, because they don't disperse in liquid and they can be absorbed from the intestine into the blood stream.

To address these problems, the researchers formed nanoparticles called "nanonaps" that contain the colorful dye molecules and added the abilities to disperse in liquid and move safely through the intestine

In laboratory experiments performed with mice, the researchers administered the nanojuice orally. They then used photoacoustic tomography (PAT), which is pulsed laser lights that generate pressure waves that, when measured, provide a real-time and more nuanced view of the small intestine. The researchers plan to continue to refine the technique for human trials, and move into other areas of the gastrointestinal tract.

Additional authors of the study come from UB's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and McMaster University in Canada. The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. You also may be interested in checking out the abstract of an older study on nanoparticles by Dr. Lovell, "Porphysomes, PoP-liposomes and porphyrin nanoparticles."

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