Science Bites seeks to compile the latest scientific research updates in bite-sized forms.

1. Cytokines as potential biomarkers for chronic fatigue syndrome


Early this week, researchers from Stanford University released ground-breaking findings on their study of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). They found a link between the condition and variations in certain cytokines and immune-signalling proteins that track with illness severity.

Scientists recruited 192 patients with the condition, and 392 healthy controls – and studied 51 cytokines with sophisticated fluorescence-based testing. Out of these cytokines, only two differed in their total concentrations between both groups.

Interestingly, 17 of the cytokines showed dramatic variations between patients with mild and severe CFS symptoms. Out of these, 13 of the cytokines promote inflammation, which proves the role of chronic inflammation in CFS, as shown by prior studies.

Lead author Dr Jose Montoya, infectious diseases professor at Stanford expressed, “This is a field that has been full of scepticism and misconception – where patients have been viewed to have invented their disease. These data clearly display the contrary, and demonstrate what can be achieved when we couple good research design with new technology.”

Dr Anthony Komaroff, a Harvard internist and epidemiologist stated that scientists have previously speculated cytokines might be causing the symptoms of CFS; but it was unclear. The latest findings indicate “levels of many cytokines do correlate with symptoms: The higher the blood level, the worse the symptoms.”

2. New cystic fibrosis biomarkers identified in infant sweat


The gold standard for cystic fibrosis (CF) diagnosis is the sweat chloride test. Now, scientists from McMaster University, Canada are studying chemical indicators that could complement this test. Philip Britz-McKibbin, lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, explained that there are challenges in clinical decision-making with the current test in regards to some borderline cases.

According to Joanna Valsamis, “the easier it is to detect CF, the earlier it can be diagnosed—and the better people's chances are at living a longer, healthier life.”
According to Joanna Valsamis, “the easier it is to detect CF, the earlier it can be diagnosed—and the better people's chances are at living a longer, healthier life.”

For this study, scientists collected and analysed sweat samples from 50 unaffected infants and 18 confirmed CF cases infants. They found that pilocarpic acid and mono(2-ethylhexyl)phthalic acid were secreted at significantly lower concentrations in the sweat of CF infants, amongst other new findings.

Researchers believe that testing for these biomarkers could be particularly useful in cases where the chloride sweat test result is inconclusive. Besides that, these biomarkers also uncover underlying mechanisms that lead to the progression of CF.

Joanna Valsamis, Chief Healthcare, Research and Advocacy Officer at Cystic Fibrosis Canada emphasised, “The easier it is to detect CF, the earlier it can be diagnosed – and the better people's chances are at living a longer, healthier life. CF Canada invests heavily in research that aims to improve the lives of people living with CF, and findings such as those from Dr Britz-McKibbin are crucial to our understanding of the disease.”

3. Blood test for earlier detection of pancreatic cancer


As published in Science Translational Medicine, a study has discovered the link between two protein markers and the earlier detection of pancreatic cancer. Kenneth Zaret, study author and director of the Penn Institute for Regenerative Medicine remarked, “What we found is a biomarker panel that's very cheaply, conveniently assayed in the blood; and that uses conventional methods used by diagnostic centres around the country. So, it could be used to detect pancreatic cancer at stages 1 and 2.”

Although still at investigative stage, the study revealed to be able to correctly identify someone with stage 1 or 2 pancreatic cancer, up to 87% sensitivity.
Although still at investigative stage, the study revealed to be able to correctly identify someone with stage 1 or 2 pancreatic cancer, up to 87% sensitivity.

Zaret and his team took late stage pancreatic cancer cells, genetically reprogrammed them to a induced pluripotent stem cells; and studied their disease progression. In total, 107 proteins were found to be released from early stage pancreatic cancer cells. They then related it back to human blood tests based on current blood lab technologies.

“From those, we found a marker called THBS2,” explained Zaret. These levels were higher in blood samples from 81 pancreatic cancer patients, as compared to 80 healthy people in the control group. Scientists have combined the test with CA19-9 to further improve the test's sensitivity and specificity. Samples from 197 cancer patients, 140 healthy people in a control group, and 200 people with pancreatic disorders that weren't linked to cancer were consequently analysed.

The combination THBS2 and CA19-9 hiked up the test’s accuracy to 98%. Zaret relayed that futher tests “will let us assess whether our biomarker test will allow us to detect cancer even before it is stage 1, stage negative 1. Our big goal is to be able to detect pancreatic cancer before it's at the 13% survival rate, which is where a stage 1 diagnosis is now.” MIMS

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Sources:
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/31/540565526/scientists-edge-closer-to-elusive-lab-test-for-chronic-fatigue-syndrome
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170731090836.htm
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acscentsci.7b00299
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pancreatic-cancer-blood-test-earlier-detection/