Scientists say multiple sclerosis could be diagnosed by a BREATH TEST in future

A new study aims to show how the incurable condition multiple sclerosis (MS) could in future be diagnosed by a simple breath test.

Speaking at the MS Society MS Frontiers conference  in Bath, researchers at the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Biomarker Research (CeBioR) explained their plan to discover novel breath biomarkers for MS, which could be used to diagnose the condition.
Every time a person exhales they release hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The majority of these originate in the bloodstream, meaning they can reveal hidden physiological changes happening in the body – including disease activity. A separate study1 and the team’s preliminary data has already indicated the presence of breath biomarkers in MS, which they now hope to confirm and ultimately translate into a new diagnostic tool.
MS Society Director of Research, Dr Susan Kohlhaas, said: “There are over 100,000 people with MS in the UK and we often hear that the path to diagnosis is an incredibly stressful time. The techniques used for diagnosis are invasive, expensive and often laborious, so this exciting development would address a major unmet need. Having a lumbar puncture and even an MRI scan can be an uncomfortable and unsettling experience, which we know people with MS are keen to change. 
“While a breath biopsy test may sound futuristic, MS researchers today are achieving some incredible things – and these findings, whilst early, are very encouraging.”
MS damages nerves in your body and makes it harder to do everyday things, like walk, talk, eat and think. It's relentless, painful, and disabling. This study will analyse VOCs from people living with various stages of MS, and compare them to healthy control samples to confirm novel breath biomarkers. As well as providing a rapid and inexpensive diagnosis method, these biomarkers could also help doctors monitor a patient’s disease progression and their response to treatment. 
Soo Lyon-Milne, 53, from Stockport, lives with the secondary progressive form of MS. She says: “Had this test been available at the time my symptoms started, doctors could have diagnosed me a good ten years sooner. There are no drugs for my type of MS and that might have given me a chance to have treatment. Also MRIs can be quite scary – I’ve never thought of myself as a claustrophobic person but I am in those machines. You put up with it of course, but the noise is unbearable and you have this contraption bolted right over your head. It’s nerve-wracking! Anything to help others avoid it would be fantastic.”
The researchers are already in the process of collecting breath samples from people with MS and without. Preliminary results have indicated the presence of potential MS biomarkers, some of which they believe may reflect alterations in the gut microbiome that occur in MS. The research team at the CeBioR, under the direction of Dr Patrick McHugh, are now looking to undertake a large multicentre longitudinal study to further explore these breath biomarkers to help improve diagnosis, as well as our understanding of disease progression and treatment response.
The MS Society is the UK’s biggest charitable funder of MS research, and MS Frontiers – organised by the MS Society – is the UK's biggest biennial conference for MS research professionals. For more information visit


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