JUN 11, 2018 12:42 PM PDT

Nasal Brush Test for Asthma Diagnosis

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Diagnosing mild-to-moderate asthma can be difficult to diagnose, especially when scientists need to rule out other respiratory disorders that have similar symptoms. From Mount Sinai, scientists introduce a new nasal test that’s easy, affordable, and accurate.

"Our nasal brush test takes seconds to collect - for time-strapped clinicians, particularly primary care providers at the frontlines of asthma diagnosis, this could greatly improve patient outcomes through early and accurate diagnosis,” explained Dr. Supinda Bunyavanich.

Existing diagnostic tools for asthma, such as pulmonary function testing (PFT), aren’t cutting it. Some clinics don’t have access to the necessary equipment and expertise to conduct PFT, a noninvasive analysis of lung function. PFT measures lung volume, lung capacity, rates of flow, and gas exchange to detect asthma, respiratory infections, allergies, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, and asbestosis. However, PFT isn’t always successful at telling the difference between asthma and similar respiratory diseases.

The new nasal brush test and follow-up data analysis works thanks to a genetic asthma biomarker identified by machine-learning algorithms.

"One of the most exciting components of this study is demonstrating the power of machine learning when applied to biomedical data," explained data scientist Dr. Gaurav Pandey. "Collaborations between computational scientists and biomedical researchers and clinicians are advancing medicine at an inspiring pace - we have the power of insights we didn't have many of in the past and that opens a window to an entirely new world of diagnostic tools and treatments."

Pandey and others applied the algorithms to genetic data from nasal brush test results from people with and without asthma. The biomarker identified consists of 90 genes. Similar technology is being applied in studies of other diseases, including breast cancer.

The new biomarker-based test detects and diagnoses asthma and distinguishes between other respiratory disorders, such as allergic rhinitis, smoking, upper respiratory infection, and cystic fibrosis.

Going forward, the study scientists plan to conduct clinical trials to continue testing of the biomarker and the nasal test. “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,” Bunyavanich said.

The present study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Sources: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital/Mount Sinai School of Medicine

About the Author
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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