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Advance Toward Simple Breath Test for Multiple Sclerosis

Scientists from Israel, together with collaborators, are reporting the development and successful tests in humans of a sensor array that can diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS) from exhaled breath, an advance that the researchers describe as a landmark in the long search for a fast, inexpensive, and non-invasive test for MS -- the most common neurological disease in young adults. The report was published online on September 22, 2011 in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience. In the article, senior author Dr. Hossam Haick and colleagues report that doctors now diagnose MS based on its characteristic symptoms, which include muscle spasms, numbness, coordination problems, and slurred speech. One common tool for confirming the diagnosis and making informed decisions on treatment is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. Another tool is a lumbar puncture or "spinal tap" to analyze the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. MRI scans, however, are costly, and lumbar punctures are invasive. To overcome these obstacles, the researchers have identified volatile organic compounds from exhaled breath that can be associated with MS. Based on these findings, the researchers developed a new sensor array that can diagnose MS by analyzing the determined chemical compounds that appear in the breath of MS patients. Using the sensors, the researchers carried out a proof-of-concept clinical study on 34 MS patients and 17 healthy volunteers and found that the sensors are just as accurate as a spinal tap, but without the pain or the risk of side effects. "The results presented here open new frontiers in the development of fast, noninvasive, and inexpensive medical diagnosis tools for detection of chronic neurological diseases," the scientists stated. "The results could serve as a launching pad for the discrimination between different subphases of stages of multiple sclerosis as well as for the identification of multiple sclerosis patients who would respond well to immunotherapy." A large clinical study with the new sensors is underway and will be reported in the future. [Press release] [ACS Chemical Neuroscience abstract]