Searching exhaled breaths for the chemical signs of multiple sclerosis

"Having a lumbar puncture and even an MRI scan can be an uncomfortable and unsettling experience, which we know people with MS are keen to change," said Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at the MS Society. (Pixabay)

With every breath we take, we release thousands of organic compounds that can reveal the early activity of diseases hidden within the body.

To put them to work, researchers at the University of Huddersfield in England hope to collect and screen those chemicals for signs linked to multiple sclerosis. The university’s Centre for Biomarker Research has begun a study that will analyze the breaths from people living with various stages of MS and compare them to samples from healthy volunteers.


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The goal is to produce a rapid, inexpensive and simple-to-perform diagnostic tool that could help physicians identify the disease, track a patient’s progression and monitor responses to treatment.

The researchers’ preliminary results have highlighted potential signals related to MS, which researchers believe may be linked to changes in the gut microbiome. They are now planning a larger longitudinal study, according to the MS Society of the U.K.

“There are over 100,000 people with MS in the U.K. and we often hear that the path to diagnosis is an incredibly stressful time,” Susan Kohlhaas, the MS Society’s director of research said in a statement.

“The techniques used for diagnosis are invasive, expensive and often laborious, so this exciting development would address a major unmet need,” Kohlhaas added. “Having a lumbar puncture and even an MRI scan can be an uncomfortable and unsettling experience, which we know people with MS are keen to change.”

According to previous research, one of the underlying theories behind a breath-based biomarker is linked to the role of oxidative stress on the central nervous systems of people with MS—which is seen as a contributor to the damage of myelin sheaths surrounding individual nerves.

Due to the high lipid content of neural tissue, including polyunsaturated fatty acids, the oxidative stress can generate a range of measurable reactive compounds and aldehydes, according to a paper published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

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