MS breath test breakthrough that could have changed Kevin’s life

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A new study which aims to show how the incurable condition multiple sclerosis (MS) could in future be diagnosed by a simple breath test made the discovery ten years too late for one Edinburgh sufferer.

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Biomarker Research (CeBioR) hope 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 study 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.

Kevin McHugh, 39, from Edinburgh, lives with the relapsing form of MS and said: “If this breath test had been available ten years ago it would have changed my life.

“I spent over a decade getting every test under the sun in search of other illnesses before finally being diagnosed with MS. It was only after regular trips to the optician on top of countless ­hospital visits that I was told that my symptoms were caused by the condition.”

He added: “A test like this could have seen me diagnosed years earlier and started on a treatment that would ultimately have seen me experience fewer relapses and slow progression of the condition. It would be great to see something like this make progress as it could potentially help ­others avoid ­having to go through the same thing.”

MS damages nerves in the 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.

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.

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “There are more than 11,000 people with MS in Scotland and we often hear that the path to diagnosis is an incredibly stressful time.

“While a breath biopsy test may sound futuristic, MS researchers today are achieving some incredible things – and these findings, whilst early, are very encouraging.”

For more information about the work of the charity, visit www.mssociety.org.uk