Simpler test for asthma scans saliva for telltale signs

Scientists have uncovered new clues that promise to make diagnosing asthma more straightforward(Credit: Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos)

As it stands, asthma is far from the easiest health condition to diagnose, with the process involving physical exams, medical history checks and/or costly breath-measuring devices. Scientists have now come up with a new approach that could make things a whole lot easier, analyzing a single sample of a patient's saliva to pick out telltale signs of the disease.

Asthma is a condition that affects some 25 million people in the US alone, but there is no one definitive test for it. Doctors will discuss a patient's medical history, check their ears, eyes and chest and bring in equipment like spirometers to test their lung capacity as a means of diagnosis.

But lately we've been uncovering some new clues that promise to make things a lot more straightforward. A few months back, the identification of molecules that circulate in the blood of asthma sufferers raised the prospect of not just better diagnostics, but also more targeted treatments. This, with other advances like new lung-tracking wearables and a so-called asthma-detecting Sneezometer paint a promising picture of progress for managing the disease.

The latest breakthrough in the area comes from researchers at Loughborough University in the UK, who worked in collaboration with Nottingham City Hospital. The team gathered saliva samples from both asthma patients and healthy subjects, and used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to scan them for metabolic biomarkers.

The team found 10 unique features that distinguished the saliva of a moderate asthma sufferer from a healthy control, which it says reliably reveals the presence of the condition. Furthermore, they also have the potential to indicate the severity and the progression of the disease.

While their discovery is promising, the researchers note the biomarkers will need to also be verified in further longitudinal studies before the technique can enter clinical use. But when and if that happens, it shapes as a promising tool for early diagnosis and ongoing monitoring of asthma patients.

The research was published in the journal Analytical Methods.

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