Scientists may soon be able to alleviate the agonising belly pain experienced by thousands of sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - by controlling the bacteria in the gut, according to pioneering Irish research.
A study that has run for more than 10 years at University College Cork - and the findings of which are published tomorrow in the prestigious scientific journal, 'eLife' - shows that bacteria in the gut of mice are capable of reducing abdominal pain.
Researchers now believe this may also be the case for humans with IBS.
One in every 10 people suffers from the condition, which is potentially debilitating and is often accompanied by crippling abdominal pain.
Professor John Cryan, one of several UCC scientists involved in the research, says he and his colleagues have conclusively shown that, in mice, gut bacteria play a key role in regulating abdominal pain. It's believed this is also the case for humans.
Although the bacteria in the gut have long been thought to play a key role in pain modulation, this study proves it categorically.
"In our research we focused on one of the main symptoms of IBS, which is the pain," Professor Cryan said. "We found that by targeting the bacteria in the gut you can alleviate one of the symptoms of IBS. This is the first time we have conclusively shown that microbes in the gut play a critical role in abdominal pain."
The scientist, along with Professor Ted Dinan and others, has been carrying out the research at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork.
The team also discovered a significant link between gut bacteria and the brain. "Microbes can regulate key brain areas that sense pain," he said.
Abdominal pain, said Professor Cryan, was one of the "hardest symptoms to treat," but he added these findings offered hope.