Gas sensors normally used to test components for premium cars could one day help doctors diagnose difficult gastrointestinal illnesses and metabolic diseases.
This is the belief of researchers at Warwick University, who are integrating such gas sensors into a medical tool that would study the fermentation of undigested foods in the colon — a process that can affect colonic health and influence metabolic behaviour.
It has traditionally been difficult to study fermentation and the volatile organic compounds it generates because it is difficult to access the colon.
The Warwick solution would use a special suite of equipment normally used to test car components. The equipment heats car material samples to see what range of gaseous volatile chemicals are emitted.
The results so far suggest the equipment could be used to obtain a picture of the range of fermentation gases produced by this organic matter. Such information could help doctors classify the mix of gases and provide an understanding of what gastrointestinal illness or metabolic diseases are afflicting patients.
The team is now exploring ways to take this technique into larger-scale studies, including clinical trials.
Ramesh P Arasaradnam, a clinician scientist in gastroenterology at Warwick Medical School endorsed the work.
He said: 'Gaining first-hand information on what is going on in the gut requires invasive procedures. This technique could give medical consultants valuable information about what is causing a patient's condition long before the data from a standard bacterial culture would be available.'