Mild to moderate asthma can be difficult to diagnose, as its symptoms change over time and are often affected by other respiratory conditions. A new test, however, is able to definitively determine whether or not a patient has asthma – via just a swabbing of the nose.

As things currently stand, pulmonary function testing (PFT) is the most reliable means of diagnosing asthma. This requires trained clinicians and special equipment, neither of which are always available. Additionally, it's often difficult to differentiate between asthma and similar conditions via PFT alone.

With that in mind, researchers from the Mount Sinai Health System used a "nasal brushing" technique to collect RNA (ribonucleic acid) from the noses of 190 volunteers, 66 of whom had asthma and 124 of whom did not. After those samples were sequenced, machine learning algorithms were used to analyze the data, in order to determine the differences between the RNA of the two groups.

As a result, a 90-gene biomarker was identified, which is specific to people with asthma. It is now hoped that doctors will be able to simply swab the inside of patients' noses, then analyze the sample to see if the biomarker is present. To that end, a study involving a larger number of people is now being planned.

"With prospective validation in large cohorts, our asthma biomarker could lead to the development of a minimally invasive test to aid asthma diagnosis at clinical frontlines where time and resources often preclude pulmonary function testing," says Mount Sinai's Dr. Supinda Bunyavanich.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: Mount Sinai