Sixteen volunteers drank their own blood to help scientists uncover a better way of diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease.
Volunteers consumed up to 300ml – around 10 shots – of their own blood in the bizarre Swiss study.
Researchers behind ‘The Vampire Study’ found the nauseating drink increases the levels of a specific protein in faeces.
The team in Zurich now believe the presence of this protein, called calprotectin, suggests a patient has intestinal bleeding.
Intestinal bleeding commonly occurs in IBD, a group of agonising bowel conditions that strike hundreds of thousands of people.
In research named ‘The Vampire Study’, 16 volunteers drank their own blood to helps scientists better understand inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease (stock)
Endoscopies, uncomfortable for patients, are the most common way to diagnose IBD, of which the major types are Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Scientists at Triemli Hospital, who led the study, said the results could lead to more accurate ways of assessing stool samples.
The study, published in the United European Gastroenterology journal, wanted to determine how drinking blood affected proteins in faeces.
The 16 volunteers ingested 100ml and 300ml of their own blood either via drinking or a nasal tube.
Levels of calprotectin in their faeces were measured before the experiment, every day for a week during and a fortnight after.
One day after drinking 300ml of their own blood, eight of the participants’ faeces had elevated calprotectin levels – defined as more than 50 micrograms per gram.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a medical term that describes a group of conditions in which the intestines become inflamed (red and swollen).
Two major types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine (colon) whereas Crohn’s disease can occur in any part of the intestines.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps and pain frequent
- Watery diarrhoea (may be bloody)
- Severe urgency to have a bowel movement
- Fever during active stages of disease
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue anaemia (due to blood loss)
People of any age can get IBD, but it’s usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40.
The conditions and chronic and cannot be cured so treatment usually relies on medication and lifestyle changes to manage the symptoms, but may include surgery.
IBD is thought to affect some three million people in the US, over 300,000 Britons, and 85,000 Australians.
Source: Crohn’s & Colitis Australia
This is compared to just one participant with elevated levels before the experiment.
The results suggest high calprotectin levels are linked to intestinal bleeding, which is a key symptom of untreated IBD.
Calprotectin has previously been associated with gastrointestinal bleeding and inflammation in IBD.
The protein is thought to end up in faeces when certain immune cells enter the intestinal lining, resulting in inflammation.
But the scientists, led by Dr Stephan Vavricka, admit the diagnosis method has its drawbacks.
As well as being a sign of IBD, calprotectin levels can also become elevated if a patient is suffering from an infection, even if it does not affect their gut.
One of the study’s participants was forced to pull out when they developed a bacterial infection in their ear and nose.
This participant’s calprotectin levels were extraordinarily high at 400 micrograms per gram.
IBD occurs due to gut inflammation, with Crohn’s disease affecting the entire digestive system and ulcerative colitis just the large intestine.
Crohn’s, which is often considered to be more severe, affects at least 115,000 people in the UK and 780,000 in the US.
UC affects 146,000 and 907,000 people, respectively.
This comes after research released last July suggested exposure to a gender-bending chemical found in receipts and plastic water bottles may cause IBD.
Exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), which is also found in the lining of canned foods, causes the same inflammation and gut bacteria changes in mice that occur in Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients, a study by Texas A&M University found.