Assessment of Environmental Enteric Dysfunction in the SHINE Trial: Methods and Challenges
Childhood gut dysfunction (enteropathy) is common in resource-poor environments. Stunting is its presumed major consequence. Identification of biomarkers of gut dysfunction could identify the presence of, and, ideally, assess interventions for, enteropathy. Classically, enteropathy has been identified histopathologically. However, less invasive assays may be more sensitive for detecting earlier perturbations reflecting specific functional derangements. The most commonly used test has been the urinary lactulose to mannitol ratio (L:M), which primarily assesses gut leakiness, and which also measures absorption. We systematically reviewed the L:M literature published from 2000 to 2010 pertinent to children in developing country settings, and identified 25 relevant publications representing heterogeneous studies. We conclude that the L:M test has many attributes, including reflecting 2 physiologic processes (absorption and permeability) and likely correlation with growth failure consequent to child gut dysfunction. However, improved test technical performance, data reporting, and correlation with host phenotypes are needed to maximize the utility of this test.