Simple blood test to detect respiratory disease

Mar 23 2011

In a world-first study, Hunter researchers have found that respiratory diseases could soon be diagnosed through a simple blood test.

Currently, people suspected of suffering asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are diagnosed by undertaking a series of clinical tests to assess their lung function and response to medication.

The study, to be published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, has identified four novel blood-based biomarkers that can tell whether a person is suffering asthma, COPD or if they have a healthy lung function.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Gibson said that correct diagnosis of asthma or COPD was vital in managing and treating the conditions.

“Asthma and COPD have similar characteristics such as coughing and wheezing, but they are two very different conditions in terms of disease onset, frequency of symptoms and treatment.

“To date, some studies have attempted to identify biomarkers of COPD or asthma, but no one had investigated whether blood-based diagnosis was possible.”

Professor Peter Gibson and his team relied on the proteomics approach – an emerging field of science that focuses on the structure and functions of an organism’s proteins.

Using clinical trials they found that when used in combination, four blood-based biomarkers were able to discriminate between a clinical diagnosis of asthma, COPD and a control group.

Professor Gibson said that identifying the biomarker involved in the development of airway diseases may allow clinicians to diagnose the diseases in their earlier, more treatable stages.

“Since these biomarkers can be detected in blood, which is readily obtainable from patients, this panel of biomarkers has the potential to become an extremely useful addition to the clinical diagnosis and management of respiratory disease.

“Combined with well-defined clinical groups and advanced statistical analyses, we have shown that proteomics is a powerful tool for the identification of novel disease biomarkers. The study is a good example of how high-quality biological science can be translated effectively to a useful result for people with asthma and COPD.”

Professor Peter Gibson is a senior staff specialist at Hunter New England Local Health Network and a Conjoint Professor at the University of Newcastle.

The study was funded by the Australian government as part of its Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma and Airways program. The findings were published online ahead of the print edition of the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.