A researcher with the AllerGen research network in Canada is hoping a urine test he’s developing will turn the grey area of diagnosing asthma into simple black and white.
Asthma can be tricky for a doctor to diagnose, especially in young kids. Symptoms can mimic other diseases and spirometry, the breathing test to diagnose asthma, requires the patient be able to breathe into a tube, which isn’t possible for most small children.
“The hypothesis has been that people with airway disease will have different metabolism compared to those without disease,” says Dr. Darryl Adamko, head of pediatric pulmonary medicine for the Saskatoon Health Region.
That is, the chemicals in their urine will have a unique compound that could be tested for. His team, based at the University of Alberta where he used to work, is using a technology called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and they believe they have pinpointed what the metabolism of an asthmatic looks like in urine.
They are now working with groups in the United Kingdom and Canada to see how well testing urine for this compound predicts asthma. (Adamko is also testing the theory with COPD, bronchiolitis and allergic rhinitis.)
The researchers are still trying to recruit groups large enough for a robust study, but based on the early results, “it does look like it can differentiate asthma versus COPD or asthma versus no asthma,” says Adamko.
The pediatric respirologist hopes this test will do more than just diagnose. “As you get sicker, your metabolism changes,” he says. That means if someone comes into a clinic or hospital with asthma symptoms, a urine test could tell doctors whether the symptoms will get worse. While Adamko is optimistic his team will be successful, he says it’s at least five years before such a test is used in common practice.
First published in Allergic Living magazine.
To subscribe or order an issue, click here.