STATE COLLEGE, Pa., April 13 — There is no definitive test for asthma, with most diagnoses based on history and breathing tests, both of which researchers say lack definition and depend on patients having attacks before any type of treatment.
Researchers at Penn State University found microRNAs, or miRNAs, in the blood can indicate whether patients have asthma or another similar condition that includes lung inflammation, according to a new study.
Once thought to serve no role, miRNAs play a role in gene expression and are increasingly being used to diagnose and characterize diseases based on patterns of how they work in the blood, including the potential to differentiate between types of asthma and other conditions.
“We found that there was a subset of these miRNAs that were unique to asthma, and that we could use them to predict if someone had it based on if they were high or low compared to the other two groups,” Dr. Faoud Ishmael, an associate professor of medicine at Penn State, said in a press release. “There’s a different molecular fingerprint if you have asthma compared to if you have allergic rhinitis or neither.”
For the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, recruited 35 asthmatic patients, 25 nonasthmatic patients with allergic rhinitis and 19 nonallergic, non asthmatic patients to undergo blood tests to detect differences between miRNA and DNA expression.
The researchers identified 30 miRNAs expressed differently between the three patient types, fitting the miRNAs into five groups based on patterns of how they were expressed. In addition to being able to detect distinct differences between healthy patients and those with a condition, the biomarkers allowed researchers to identify asthmatic subtypes based on the blood test.
In addition to the diagnostic potential of the miRNA findings, the researchers also said they offer a chance for new treatments for both asthma and allergies that target molecules related to the conditions.
“Our goal is to have a blood test for asthma developed in the next five years,” Ishmael said. “You might be able to take a drop of blood from a finger stick and analyze it in the clinic to determine whether someone has asthma at that visit. That would be the ultimate goal.”