By sequencing microRNA within exosomes originating in the brain, it is now possible to definitively distinguish blood samples of ALS patients from healthy controls, researchers at the Brain Chemistry Labs report in Royal Society Open Biology.

“We think this is a game changer: the methods we have pioneered will lead to the ability to rapidly diagnose ALS from a single blood draw, compared to current scientific measures where patients may have to wait for over a year for a confirmed diagnosis,” reports Dr Sandra Banack, Brain Chemistry Labs Senior Scientist and the study’s first author, in a media release. “People with ALS typically live an average of two to three years after diagnosis, so a rapid assessment is crucial.”

The new test is based on exosomes, which are microscopic packets containing genetic material that are shed by different tissues in the body. The researchers purified brain exosomes from blood plasma by targeting a unique protein on the exosome surface. Using the brain exosomes, the researchers extracted microRNA, which are short sequences of genetic material that typically regulate gene expression within the cell. Eight different microRNA sequences together form a unique genetic fingerprint that distinguishes blood samples of ALS patients from healthy controls.

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According to Dr Rachael Dunlop, Brain Chemistry Labs Senior Research Fellow, “This new genetic fingerprint may open up opportunities for novel drug discovery. Given the lack of treatments for ALS, physicians and researchers understand the importance of having a new biomarker to help in assessing the effectiveness of new drug candidates, and in enabling patients to receive experimental treatments at an earlier stage of the disease.”

Translating these new techniques from the laboratory bench to the clinic may still take time, cautions Brain Chemistry Labs Director Dr Paul Alan Cox, in the relase. “We are excited by this discovery,” Cox explains, “but the analytical techniques at present are costly and time-consuming.”

[Source(s): Brain Chemistry Labs, EurekAlert]