Breath Test for Multiple Sclerosis

Diagnosing MS easily with exhaled breath

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Imagine being able to detect a life-changing disease with just an exhale. That's how doctors plan to diagnose multiple sclerosis.

Scientists have developed a “breath test” that can detect multiple sclerosis (MS), the most common neurological disease affecting young adults. The tool is now being used in a large, clinical study. If successful, doctors would have a cheap, efficient, and easy way to diagnose MS.

"Diagnosing MS is getting easier, ask your doctor."

The research was led by Hossam Haick, of Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. MS is currently diagnosed by identifying its characteristic symptoms - muscle spasms, numbness, difficulty with coordination, and slurred speech.

To confirm the diagnosis, doctors use magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to image the brain and spinal cord. This is an expensive procedure. In some cases, doctors also use electrophoresis, an analytic procedure that tests fluid withdrawn from the spinal cord. This is considered an invasive procedure, and causes discomfort in patients.

The expense and invasiveness of these techniques have sent scientists looking for a fast, inexpensive and non-invasive test for MS.

An international group of scientists found that volatile organic compounds from a person's breath can help detect the presence of the disease. That means that there are chemical compounds that MS patients have in common when they exhale, that you can't find in a healthy patient's breath. Based on that information, scientists set to developing a simple, portable tool to test a person's breath for these chemical compounds.

Nanotechnology is the key to the new method. They used carefully designed carbon nanotubes to create sensors to detect these specific MS-associated compounds, hexanal and 5-methyl-undecane. These nanotubes are constructed on a very, very small, microscopic scale.

The scientists tested it on 34 MS patients and 17 healthy volunteers. They found that the sensors were as accurate as a spinal tap, without the drawbacks.

Access to this test may be around the corner, with the completion of a large scale, clinical study now underway. The scientists believe their technique may be a “launching pad” to one day diagnose different stages of MS, and even help determine which patients would respond best to immunotherapy.

The research was published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience in October 2011.
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 28, 2011
Last Updated:
October 31, 2011