Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New ways to predict how diseases will progress

Being able to predict diseases would be very beneficial. It allows us to take preventive measures, which not only spares the patient, but also reduces the costs of healthcare, especially when it comes to chronic diseases. Because we continuously increase our understanding of the pathology of diseases, we find new ways to construct models that predict the onset or progression of a disease. A novel way, developed by the Emory University allows us to predict the progression of various diseases by simply taking a blood sample.

Blood contains various components, including white blood cells, which are part of the immune system. At the Emory University, scientists took blood samples from a total of 14 healthy individuals and extracted a group of white blood cells called monocytes. These cells were consequently stimulated in the lab, after which production of a certain group of proteins was assessed. The proteins, called cathepsins, are known to be implied in a great variety of diseases, which seems quite logical when looking at their function: they aid in the breakdown of proteins, which are the building blocks for cells.

In their experiments, the scientists found that the blood cells widely differed in the production of cathepsins. This is attributed to variety in the required signals for cathepsin production. The researchers proved to be able to predict which people were producing high amounts of certain cathepsin molecules, only by looking at the activity of signals required to produce them. Because the measurements were performed in healthy individuals, the next step would be to see whether it is also possible to predict cathepsin levels in patients with chronic diseases.

As said, cathepsins play a role in the breakdown of proteins, something which is necessary, but can also be implied in disease. Cathepsins have been implied in the pathogenesis of a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, stroke, alzheimer's, arthritis and COPD. Being able to predict levels of cathepsins may show which patients have the highest chance of progressing in the disease. This allows for more personalized attempts when it comes to treatment. In addition, being able to predict severity may allow physicians to take preventive measures well in advance, to offset the predicted increased risk of progression.
The rationale behind the study: monocytes play a role in the development of the mentioned diseases, and measuring cathepsin level may help us to predict their actual effect.

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