In the UK, 1.1 million children are among the approximately 5.4 million people currently receiving treatment for asthma.
Loughborough University previously developed techniques for metabolic profiling of saliva to identify physiological stress from exercise, and Professor Colin Creaser from Loughborough’s Department of Chemistry and Dr Dominick Shaw from the Respiratory Research Unit at City Hospital were interested to know if this technique could also be applied to asthma diagnosis.
Asthma is currently mainly diagnosed by measuring a person’s airflow lung capacity. Lung function tests however do not reflect underlying changes associated with asthma and can be inaccurate. Other test used include sputum, urine and blood analysis, but these can be distressing, mostly for younger patients.
Professor Creaser and his team performed liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) analysis on saliva collected from healthy individuals and patients with asthma in order to identify so-called metabolic biomarkers. The detection of the presence and quantity of these ‘metabolic biomarkers’ can be used to diagnose asthma. The severity and progression of the disease can also potentially be pinpointed.
The new test is painless and offers a one-stop diagnosis that can be used for people of all ages. The research was done in collaboration with Nottingham City Hospital. Creaser notes that saliva can be collected without causing distress by using passive drool from the very old to the very young. This is not the case with other sampling methods such as expired breath analysis. He adds that the team was very excited to discover that the previously developed test could also be used for diagnosing asthma.
The new test can only move to a clinical setting once the diagnostic metabolic biomarkers identified have been validated in further longitudinal studies. Once this has been done, the approach could be used for diagnosing asthma early and can then also be used as part of the ongoing monitoring of patients.