A new study aims to show how multiple sclerosis (MS) could in future be diagnosed by a simple breath test. Speaking at the MS Society MS Frontiers conference later today in Bath, researchers at the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Biomarker Research (CeBioR) will lay out their plan to discover novel breath biomarkers for 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.

“The techniques used for diagnosis are invasive, expensive and often laborious, so this exciting development would address a major unmet need,” said MS Society director of research, Susan Kohlhaas. “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.”

The 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.

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 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.