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Diagnostics Genetics and epigenetics, Clinical care, Laboratory management, Screening and monitoring, Biochemistry and molecular biology, Liquid biopsy, Omics

From Blood to Breath

At a Glance

  • Despite its prevalence, asthma can be difficult to diagnose and even trickier to treat, because not all subtypes respond to the same medications
  • Current asthma tests rely on spirometry, but completing these tests can be a challenge for some patients and may not yield reliable results 
  • A subset of circulating microRNAs is differentially expressed in patients with asthma compared with healthy controls, and a further subset can distinguish asthma from allergic rhinitis
  • In the next decade, these microRNAs may translate to a quick, cost-effective, noninvasive asthma diagnostic without the limitations of current methods

Asthma is a very common and well-known disease, but unfortunately, it’s also a disease that can be very difficult to diagnose. At the moment, we use lung function tests that rely on measuring how fast we can blow air out of our lungs – but these tests are often unable to make a definitive diagnosis, and it’s difficult for children, and even some adults, to perform them. That’s not all that complicates the matter; we now also know that asthma is very heterogeneous. It has a number of subtypes, including allergic and non-allergic disease and high and low eosinophil presence. It’s not always easy to determine what type a particular patient has, and that means that we can’t always decide which treatments might make a difference – not everyone benefits from inhaled corticosteroids, the standard medication, and we don’t always understand why. As a result, there is a great need to find tests that can both diagnose asthma and characterize the disease further.

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About the Author

Faoud Ishmael

Faoud Ishmael is Associate Professor in the departments of Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State College of Medicine and a physician at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, USA.

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