Researchers from University College London (UCL) in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts in the US have developed a new blood test to identify liver damage within one hour.
The test is designed to detect the damage even before the appearance of symptoms and so addresses the need for the early diagnosis of liver diseases.
Validated in clinical samples, the test was found to differentiate samples from healthy individuals and those with different degrees of liver damage.
UCL Institute for Liver & Digestive Health professor William Rosenberg said: “We hope that our new test could be used on a routine basis in GP surgeries and hospital clinics to screen people who face an elevated risk of liver disease, but don’t yet show signs of liver damage to identify those with serious fibrosis, so that they can access treatment before it’s too late.
“This may open the door to a cost-effective regular screening programme thanks to its simplicity, low cost and robustness.”
The University of Massachusetts researchers devised a sensor that uses polymers coated with fluorescent dyes, which bind to blood proteins and change in brightness and colour based on the composition of the sample.
When tested using small blood samples from 65 subjects, the sensor was able to detect different protein level patterns in their serum.
UCL Chemistry department former researcher Dr William Peveler said: “By comparing the different samples, the sensor array identified a ‘fingerprint’ of liver damage.
“This method is known as a chemical nose, as it can recognise the difference between healthy and unhealthy blood samples without relying on known disease markers.”
During a study, the team evaluated their test for the identification of liver fibrosis in 30-45 minutes.
The blood test demonstrated the capability to distinguish fibrotic samples from healthy ones 80% of the time, compared to 60% in the case of differentiating mild-to-moderate and severe fibrosis.
With plans for assessment in larger populations, the team intends to refine the test’s effectiveness.