Proteomics breathes life into asthma, COPD diagnosis

Proteomics is a branch of genetics that studies the full set of proteins encoded by a genome, and enabling technologies like microfluidics are making it easier and even cheaper than ever to sort through various proteins. How does this technology benefit us? For one thing, it helps scientists find protein biomarkers for early detection of various diseases. The American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine is reporting that proteomics has helped identify four biomarkers that give physicians an early warning for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The study, conducted by researchers in Australia, determined the biomarkers may be used in different combinations to successfully identify patients with either of the airway diseases, according to a release.

"Using a proteomics approach, we have identified a panel of four blood-based biomarkers that, when used in combination, can discriminate between healthy controls, asthmatics and individuals with COPD, and has the potential to be a valuable tool in the clinical diagnosis of respiratory disease," Peter G. Gibson, conjoint professor at the University of Newcastle's School of Medicine and Public Health, said in the release. "The proteins in the diagnostic biomarker panel are all involved in the regulation of inflammation, and usually function as anti-inflammatory proteins."

Researchers took blood from 43 subjects, including 21 with asthma, five with COPD and 17 healthy controls. Using proteomic techniques, plasma proteins were separated from all blood samples. Once protein biomarkers were identified and selected, the researchers measured the biomarkers' abilities, singly and in combination, to distinguish between the groups of patients.
Gibson said that the ability to identify this group of "highly discriminatory proteins" could become useful in not only diagnosing these diseases earlier, but also managing patients who have them.

- read the release