A ‘liquid health check’ could predict disease risk.
A single blood test could be used to predict whether someone is at risk of developing a range of diseases, according to research we part-funded.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge collaborated with teams in the US to create a test which scanned a sample of blood for 5,000 proteins to find distinctive patterns associated with health and disease, including diabetes risk. The test was trialled in almost 17,000 people.
Dr Noel Faherty, our Senior Research Advisor, said:
“Your blood is home to an ever-changing mix of molecules called proteins. On their own, each one is like a single puzzle piece, revealing a tiny part of the picture that is your overall health. But thanks to major advances in technology, we now have the potential to see the bigger picture from looking at thousands of these molecules in one single blood test.
“Liquid health checks could help us develop disease ‘fingerprints’ from specific patterns of proteins in the blood. These patterns could allow doctors to predict the risk of specific diseases, including diabetes and heart problems, and even diagnose them earlier.”
Protein patterns give clues for disease risk
The technique used fragments of DNA called aptamers that bind to a target protein – just like how a specific key will fit in a particular lock. Using genome sequencing technology, the researchers searched for the aptamers and determined which proteins were present and in what levels.
From these results, the researchers used machine learning techniques to develop ‘fingerprints’ that predicted disease risk. The different ‘fingerprints’ covered a range of health states, including levels of liver fat and fat surrounding organs, kidney function, alcohol consumption, physical activity and smoking behaviour, and for risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk.
Dr Noel Faherty added: “The results show that machine learning can be as good at spotting these patterns as existing tests. However, we still don’t know enough about the biological reasons for the patterns, or if a single blood test will have practical or cost advantages.”
The findings have been published in the journal Nature Medicine. The researchers hope that, in the future, this ‘liquid health check’ could be carried out alongside current health assessments to provide more personalised information and improve care.
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