Tests Used to Evaluate Pancreatic Function and its Disorders

The pancreas is an organ within the abdominal cavity which, in humans, lies mostly behind the stomach and with its head resting in the duodenal concavity. The organ has an exocrine role which involves the secretion of digestive enzymes into the duodenum, whilst also playing the role of an endocrine gland, secreting four essential hormones into the bloodstream where they are essential to the regulation of glucose metabolism.

The pancreatic enzymes involved in digestion are trypsin, lipase and amylase, and their function involves the preliminary breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, respectively. Tests for tryptic activity in faeces, based upon the digestion of gelatine and levels of amylase in blood serums, by its digestion of starch, were once the only biochemical procedures available for the diagnosis of disorders such as pancreatitis. Not only were these methods time consuming, but they were also prone to error. Today, advances in diagnostic medicine have led to new procedures that are quicker, more sensitive and less subject to ambiguity.

Given the widespread publicity surrounding diabetes, most people are now aware that irregularities in the production of the hormone insulin, by this same vital organ, are responsible for the condition. However, they may be less aware that three additional hormones (glucagon, somatostatin and pancreatic polypeptide) are also involved in maintaining blood glucose within normal limits, although a raised level has no significance as a test of the organ’s overall function. In practice, a person is able to live after the removal of this organ given injections of insulin to control sugar levels together with enzyme supplements to perform its digestive role.

Today, although pancreatitis, often secondary to gallstones or the long-term effect of alcohol abuse, is a treatable condition in most cases, the condition is still cause for concern. If left undiagnosed, it can lead to more serious conditions. The alarming increase in the frequency of malignancies involving this organ, and of which around 25% may be attributed to smoking, has led to its early diagnosis becoming a major focus for the modern generation of more sensitive and more accurate tests designed to detect evidence of diminished pancreatic function.

A supplier of diagnostic kits and equipment to doctor’s surgeries, pathology laboratories, veterinarians and research facilities throughout South Africa since we first opened our doors back in 1980, IEPSA now offers a range of updated products that is the result of more than thirty-five years of further intensive research and development. To ensure remaining at the cutting edge of diagnostic medicine, we source all such products exclusively from the industry’s established leaders. The German company, ScheBo Biotech AG, was therefore the obvious choice when sourcing kits for the quantification of human pancreatic elastase 1, now accepted as the quickest and most reliable non-invasive test of impaired function.

Two kits employing the methodology known as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) are available. Both provide a measure of the organ’s enzyme production that can exclude or confirm insufficiency. The serum test is useful in the diagnosis of the various forms of pancreatitis and for monitoring recovery, while a stool test may also act as indicative of cystic fibrosis, gallstones or a malignant tumour. We are happy to provide further information and assistance regarding these pancreatic function tests.

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