Protein analysis paints clearer picture of health and disease
A visit to your doctor could soon provide a much more complete picture of your overall health thanks to new technologies developed by EU-funded researchers. They will enable a quick and accurate analysis of proteins from blood or urine samples to be carried out in the clinic.
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The innovative tools and techniques developed in the EU-funded MSMED project are helping to lay the foundations for a revolution in the medical application of proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins that perform a vast array of essential functions in the body.
In a similar way to how the study of genes and genetic testing is transforming healthcare and enabling personalised medicine, proteomics technologies are set to revolutionise disease diagnosis and prognosis. Furthermore, unlike genetic tests, which can warn you of a predisposition for certain conditions, protein analysis provides a comprehensive snapshot of what your organs, tissues and cells are doing at that point in time.
The analysis of proteins from body fluids such as blood or urine will be very transformative in the clinic and can, in principle, be employed for diagnosing almost any condition, from diabetes or liver disease to cancer, says MSMED coordinator Matthias Mann of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany.
Blood carries proteins from all organs in the body. For example, if the liver is damaged due to obesity, alcohol consumption or lack of exercise liver-specific proteins are released into the bloodstream. The technology developed in MSMED enables these proteins to be detected quickly and accurately at a very early stage, when the patients health can still be restored through lifestyle changes alone.
Liver disease is among the leading causes of death in many EU countries. In fact, a significant percentage of the population already has early-stage liver disease without knowing it. If, through early diagnosis, the disease trajectories of just some people could be altered this would have a tremendous positive impact on healthcare budgets and, more importantly, on the health of the population as a whole. The same is true for diabetes and many other conditions, Mann explains.
Empowering commercial applications
The MSMED results are helping to advance European healthcare towards that goal. The consortium made significant progress in the clinical application of mass spectrometry, an advanced molecular imaging technology used for characterising and sequencing proteins.
Project partner Thermo Fisher Scientific developed a new instrument called the Orbitrap Exploris. Smaller than other mass spectrometers on the market and with improved performance, the benchtop instrument is designed for use in non-specialised laboratories or clinics. The MSMED team also made sample preparation and workflow methods more automated and easier to perform for non-specialists.
Using sophisticated algorithms, the instrument can now achieve twice the resolution in the same time. And by incorporating a data-acquisition technology, we were able to achieve a 10-fold increase in the detection of even tiny amounts of proteins in blood. This was a key success for the project, Mann says.
Thermo Fisher Scientific is already using results from MSMED in its new generation of mass spectrometers, and start-ups are planning to deploy applications based on the technology, aided by MSMEDs open-access approach to the software.
While there is still work to do to make this high-end technology accessible to everyone, it is already enabling and empowering the proteomics and clinical community, Mann says. With the open access proteomics toolbox developed in MSMED, researchers and clinicians will be more successful and faster in pursuing their scientific projects, benefitting everyone.