The adventure of being a guinea pig for USU science

Published: Monday, June 27 2011 2:00 p.m. MDT

LOGAN — Researchers at Utah State University have cheerfully dubbed it the "crap trap."

It looks like a coffee filter attached to a cardboard frame. At the ends are peel-away stickers that attach to the sides of a toilet, and you can pretty much guess what happens next. But this device helps the "business" of test subjects become the business of Michael Lefevre and his team of researchers.

As part of the story about how Lefevre and his team of project Gut Check researchers are studying how bacteria in our digestive systems interact with the food we eat and our own bodies, I decided to become part of the story by volunteering to be a test subject.

The first part was pretty straight forward. On Monday, I showed up bright and early at USU's USTAR research building where I was met by study coordinator Janet Bergeson.

I was given a food journal and told to write down and photograph everything I would eat over the next three days: breakfast, beverages, lunch, snacks, dinner — even that double chocolate doughnut I broke down and wolfed one evening. It's amazing how self-conscious one becomes about what you eat when you have to write it down, knowing someone will be taking a critical look at it later.

In addition, I was given a plastic bag full of stuff. "Oh, I get a gift bag," I joked.

"I'm not sure you're going to like what's inside," the research assistant replied.

She was on to something.

Inside was my very own "crap trap," along with a pair of plastic gloves, a specimen jar and a collection stick; plus a sealable biohazard bag. The vision of what I was supposed to do was quickly becoming more clear. Lefevre was interested in studying the foods that I ate, coming and going.

The three days flew by as I recorded my diet, snapping pictures of my meal and emailing them real-time to USU. Then Thursday came. It was time to collect my sample. I prayed that everything worked right. Bergeson said some traps had not worked right, forcing some to "dive" for their sample. Fortune was on my side.

I gathered my sample, double bagged it and stashed it in my freezer — as far as possible from the frozen pizza and ice cream.

On Friday, I traveled back up to the USTAR building, where they took my journal and my sample. They took my vitals and then asked for a urine and blood sample; and I hate needles. Still, I received a hearty thanks from Lefevre and Bergeson for helping them out. But it's more personal for me than that.

You see, I have a few friends who suffer from chronic digestive disorders. For them, eating can be a painful and embarrassing experience. The joys of food are weighed against excruciating bouts of cramps. They must choose their meals carefully and spontaneous meals and treats can have bad consequences. Treating such disorders is difficult.

If Lefevre's theories prove viable, it could perhaps lead to treatments, or even a cure, for people with chronic digestive disorders. Then, my dear friends can share a double chocolate doughnut with me without fear. Then, my participation in the Gut Check study will have all been worth it.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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