Irish firm’s device to detect IBS triggers praised by researchers

21 Aug 2019

The FoodMarble AIRE device, with the accompanying mobile app. Image: FoodMarble

Researchers at the University of Auckland said FoodMarble’s device will be used in future studies to unravel the links between food and digestive discomfort.

Dublin start-up FoodMarble was founded in 2016 with the aim of finding a tech solution to help individuals overcome digestive problems. Now, the company says that it has received clinical validation for the device it created, Aire, from a top digestive health research group.

Aire uses breath analysis to enable users to measure how well they absorb different types of foods, so they can identify what foods they can eat without discomfort.

Researchers from the University of Auckland found that FoodMarble’s device successfully detected malabsorption of lactose and milk when put to the test against gold-standard clinical machines. The research was published in peer-reviewed journal, Nutrients.

In a statement, FoodMarble said: “This study marks an exciting step forward for personalisation in the management of conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS as it’s commonly known, is a digestive condition that affects one in eight people worldwide.

Aire device

FoodMarble was founded by three engineering PhDs: CEO Aonghus Shortt, COO Lisa Ruttledge, and CTO Peter Harte. The team now has 17 employees across the realms of data analysis, product development, gastroenterology, microbiology and dietetics. It is supported by an experienced board and a set of expert clinical advisers.

The company says that the device was originally imagined by Shortt as a way to help his girlfriend find what foods triggered digestive problems for her.

Aire was launched just over seven months ago and uptake has continued to grow since then. In July, the start-up registered its 300,000th breath test on the platform.

“Users log food, stress, sleep and symptoms in the app and take regular breath tests throughout the day,” Shortt explained. “Each breath test measures the level of fermentation in your gut, which indicates how well a certain food is being digested.

“Rapid fermentation can lead to a build-up of gases and digestive symptoms, so you want to limit the foods that have this reaction for you. Our users come to use because they are tired of guessing what foods are triggering digestive problems for them.”

Niall Moloney, dietician at FoodMarble, added: “IBS is made up of a number of underlying conditions and triggers, which aren’t fully understood yet. Our goal is to help our users build a comprehensive picture of their digestive health so we can deliver meaningful and actionable feedback to them.”

Digestive research

FoodMarble’s work is now attracting international attention. Prof Cameron Smith, the principal investigator of the Auckland study, said: “Given FoodMarble’s substantially lower cost, its small size and the ability to test in the home (or anywhere), we wanted to test its validity.

“Our independent analysis demonstrated just how well FoodMarble correlated against a gold-standard breath analysis machine used in hospitals. After this initial success, we’re excited about the prospect of using FoodMarble in future studies to unravel the links between food and digestive discomfort.”

Elsewhere, the start-up has also worked with clinicians in the UK, Ireland and the US.

Dr Bu Hayee, consultant gastroenterologist and clinical lead at King’s College Hospital, said: “IBS is a really challenging condition for patients to manage and often physicians are limited in the support they can offer. We are keen to explore if we can improve patient outcomes and experiences through innovative technology like FoodMarble.”

FoodMarble’s device is currently available to purchase from the company’s website and the accompanying app is free to download on iOS and Android. The start-up said it welcomes further interaction with the clinical and research community to help progress the identification and treatment of complex digestive problems, such as IBS.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic