Beyond the fart: Laurentian researcher detecting how gas works inside humans

A Sudbury scientist has discovered how the gas — more commonly known as farts — is linked to medical conditions. Dr. Rui Wang at Laurentian University studies the hydrogen sulphide that is produced in small quantities around human cells and how the amount could result in abnormalities, specifically health problems.

Dr. Rui Wang first became interested in hydrogen sulphide after his daughter accidentally cracked a painted Easter egg.

The smell from that rotting egg made him wonder if the gas — which humans emit — did anything else within the human body.

"What if in our body hydrogen sulphide also [is] produced, almost like our body is like an Easter egg. If it produces hydrogen sulphide what that can do, beyond the fart," says Wang.

The vice president of research at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., is now internationally known for his research with hydrogen sulphide.

Wang is quick to explain the difference between the gas humans emit from bacteria in their gut, what we might call farting, and the small quantities of the same gas that is produced around cells within the body.

Dr Rui Wang studies hydrogen sulphide in the human body. He says most cells produce small amounts of this gas. (From Twitter)

Wang studies the latter.

He says the amount of this gas in specific cells can determine whether illnesses like heart disease, stroke or cancer will develop.

Too much, or even too little, of hydrogen sulphide in specific cells could lead to abnormalities, which translates into certain health issues.

Wang uses high blood pressure or hypertension as an example.

"Once hydrogen sulphide is released, it will dilate the blood vessel, so the blood flow will be much [smoother] with less resistance...This is normal blood pressure," Wang says.

He adds that without sufficient hydrogen sulphide the blood vessel will be restricted causing blood pressure to increase.

Hydrogen sulphide acts like a switch

"Almost like a switch can turn on or turn off some biological reactions. So too much hydrogen sulphide may not be good and too less will be equally problematic," says Wang.

The amount of hydrogen sulphide each person produce around their cells depends on factors like genetics, nutrition and their environment.

Wang says knowing how hydrogen sulphide works with specific medical conditions allows scientists to design a targeted approach to treat the illness with either pharmaceuticals or other measures.