Scientists find simple urine test could offer a non-invasive approach for diagnosis of IBS patients

Philip Britz-McKibbin in his lab. Photo by JD Howell.

Scientists at McMaster have identified new biomarkers for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in urine, which could lead to better treatments and reduce the need for costly and invasive colonoscopy procedures currently used for diagnosis.

Little is known about the causes of IBS, a chronic and often debilitating gastrointestinal disorder which affects hundreds of thousands of Canadians in which diagnosis is complicated, patients experience a vast spectrum of symptoms and treatment options are limited.

“Diagnostic testing for IBS involves a long process of excluding other related gut disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease,” explains Philip Britz-McKibbin, lead author of the study and a professor in McMaster’s Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology.

“We were interested in finding if there is a better way to detect and monitor IBS that avoids invasive colonoscopy procedures while also giving us better insights into its underlying mechanisms,” he says.

Researchers performed metabolite profiling studies comparing urine samples from a cohort of IBS patients with a control group of healthy adults. They discovered for the first time distinctive metabolic signatures that were elevated in the IBS patients.  Several metabolites were related to collagen degradation, which researchers believe is derived from the gut, suggesting there is an impairment of the elastic lining in the colon impacting its normal function.

Researchers believe the findings might also allow for routine treatment monitoring of IBS patients that can also be used to validate the efficacy of dietary and/or pharmacological interventions.

Currently, they are expanding their work to discover new biomarkers in urine that can differentiate Crohn’s disease from ulcerative colitis in children, hoping they can avoid future colonoscopies altogether. This may allow for rapid screening and early detection of various chronic gut disorders more accurately and at a lower cost.

The study, was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Premysl Bercik, an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and researcher at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Unit, is published in the journal Metabolomics. It was funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Genome Canada.


JULY 4, 2019

Scientists map elusive toxic proteins linked to Alzheimer’s, providing new molecular clues for prevention

Rashik Ahmed, lead author and PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences with Giuseppe Melacini, senior author and a professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Photo by: Georgia Kirkos, McMaster University.


JUNE 20, 2019

A team of researchers from McMaster University has mapped at atomic resolution a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease, allowing them to better understand what is happening deep within the brain during the earliest stages of the disease.    

The findings, published on the front cover of the current edition of the Royal Society of Chemistry flagship journal Chemical Science, provide new insights into the behavior of one of the prime suspects of Alzheimer’s disease: a protein fragment known as amyloid beta, which clumps together into oligomers during the early stages of the disease. 

Researchers liken amyloid beta oligomers to a neurotoxic ‘bomb’, causing the irreversible death of neurons.

“To defuse the bomb, we need to know with a high degree of precision which wires to cut and which to avoid,” explains Giuseppe Melacini, senior author and a professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology as well as Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University. 

“This is why it is critical to map the structural features that differentiate what is toxic and what is not. However, this is a challenging task due to the transient and elusive nature of these oligomers,” he says.

Melacini, who has studied the underlying mechanisms of Alzheimer’s for nearly two decades, is working with a team of physicists, chemists, biologists and dementia specialists at McMaster, including Maikel Rheinstädter, Richard Epand, Ryan Wylie and Chris Verschoor. Each team member brings a unique perspective and specialty to an investigation which requires highly specialized equipment, including wide-angle X-ray diffraction and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to conduct the analysis at the atomic level. 

For the study, the team used a library of natural products extracted from green tea that are believed to interfere with the formation of the toxic protein oligomers to varying degrees. Using this toolkit they were able to build oligomers with different toxicities, allowing the team to gain unprecedented insights into how they interact with neurons and cause cell death. 

They hope this research can help them determine how to defuse the neurotoxic bomb.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a major medical, social and economic problem,” says Rashik Ahmed, the lead author on the paper and PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. “This research is the first step towards identifying how we can stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease before it becomes irreparable.”

By some estimates, there are more than half a million Canadians living with dementia and the number is expected to reach more than a million by the year 2031. Once symptoms emerge, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s and treatment options are limited.

Three McMaster researchers receive grants for “high-risk, fast-breaking” research

From left to right: Alexander Hynes, Ryan Wylie and Joyce Obeid


 MAY 13, 2019

 Three McMaster researchers have received funds from the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund.

Joyce Obeid and Alexander Hynes, both of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Ryan Wylie, of the Faculty of Science, will each receive up to $250,000 over the next two years.

Joyce Obeid is an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics. Her research focuses on cardiovascular health in children with chronic health conditions, such as kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, or juvenile arthritis.

Alexander Hynes’ research looks at the role of bacteriophages – viruses that specifically infect bacteria – in shaping the body’s bacterial populations, notably the gut microbiome. He is an assistant professor in the gastroenterology division of the department of medicine.

Ryan Wylie, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry and chemical biology, works on developing materials for biomedical applications, including cancer immunotherapeutics.

The New Frontiers in Research Fund, which launched May 13, 2019, supports “high-risk, high-reward interdisciplinary and international research…to help Canadian researchers make the next great discoveries in their fields” specifically for researchers within the first five years of their first academic appointment, according to a Government of Canada press release.

“As society evolves, and the complexity of the challenges we face increases, so must our means of doing research evolve,” says Ted Hewitt, chair of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, which designed the fund, and president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. “Through this program, we are truly paving the way for our emerging researchers to expand their horizons, work across disciplines and borders, and to take risks and deliver outcomes that will benefit Canadians now and well into the future.”

Renovations and addition to Arthur Bourns Building complete

A researcher in a lab coat sits in front of an exhaust hood in a lab

Peter Ho, a PhD candidate in chemistry, sits in the newly renovated labs in the Arthur Bourns Building.


 APRIL 18, 2019

A 45,000 square-foot addition, improved energy conservation and enriched science and engineering research facilities characterize the now-completed renovations to McMaster’s Arthur Bourns Building.

Filomena Tassi, minister of seniors and MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, was on-hand to mark the completion at a short ceremony on April 18.   

“Our investments in McMaster University have helped to make McMaster one of Canada’s most research-intensive universities,” said Tassi. “The improvements to the Arthur Bourns Building will help students and researchers advance innovation in our community and across Canada.”

A group of seven people stand in front of McMaster banners
From left: Mary Williams, VP University Advancement, McMaster University; Gillian Goward, chair, McMaster Department of Chemistry; Bob Bratina, MP, Hamilton East-Stoney Creey; Patrick Deane, president, McMaster University; Filomena Tassi, MP, Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas; Maureen McDonald, dean, McMaster Faculty of Science; Ishwar Puri, dean, McMaster Faculty of Engineering

The project marked the largest government investment in laboratories and research capacity in the university’s history, with contributions from both the federal and provincial governments as well as Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator.

Through its Postsecondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, the federal government contributed $37.5 million, while the Government of Ontario provided $5.5 million. The university itself invested $24.3 million, and the IESO gave a further $7.6 million, for a total of $75 million.

Along with the new addition, the project involved extensive renovations to existing spaces and completing deferred maintenance projects. The addition was built to LEED-Silver specifications.

“McMaster is creating a brighter world through its research, teaching and local and global impact,” said McMaster President Patrick Deane. “These amazing new labs and spaces mean our students and researchers will be able to work together in new ways to find answers to the critically important issues facing Canada and our world. Our sincerest thanks to the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their outstanding support in making this happen.”

PhD candidate Peter Ho.

The periodic table in the lobby of the new ABB addition.
Artwork of the periodic table

The project included 45,000 square feet of new space, as well as extensive renovations to existing facilities.


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