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Immunosignaturing: Early Warning of Future Illness

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 3, 2012

Scientists at Arizona State University are developing a new way to discover human diseases in their early stages before symptoms compel a visit to the doctor. The discovery has the potential to save money and lives, because proper early treatment of many afflictions could stave off expensive and less successful end stage treatment.

The technique is called immunosignaturing, and the idea is that the human immune system can be used to assess general health status and identify changes that indicate the pre-symptomatic presence of various illnesses. Brian Andrew Chase and Barten Legutki, working for Stephen Albert Johnston, director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine at the university's Biodesign Institute, have shown that the immunosignatures can be obtained from samples of serum, plasma, saliva and blood.

The work is described in an article in the journal Clinical and Vaccine Immunology, as well as in a story on the university website and in ScienceDaily. It is also explained in a lecture on YouTube by Neal Woodbury, the institute's chief science officer, and in comments by Johnston on the university's site.

Antibodies present in a sample of blood-a single drop will do-are spread over a glass slide containing an array of peptides that are composed of amino acids. The antibodies bind selectively to the peptides, and when blood is washed away, a machine readable image of immunity remains. That's the immunosignature. The signature can be registered, and it can change if an individual is exposed to a pathogen, a vaccine, or any other factor that would provoke change in antibody activity. To date, the technique has been tested on 20 infectious and chronic diseases, each of which has displayed its own recognizable portrait.

"Our ultimate goal is to monitor the health of healthy people, so it is crucial to have a technique that is cheap, simple, and as we demonstrate here, robust," Johnston said. Researchers have found immunosignaturing to be accurate and versatile. While most traditional diagnostic tests look for specific pathogens, immunosignaturing allows patients to have an individual baseline of their own immune activity, and the changes displayed after the baseline is established could be used for screening to find pre-symptomatic presence of a wide range of ailments. The results remain stable over time and seem not to vary by method of sample collection.

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