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Could a blood test detect early signs of emphysema?

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Imagine how useful it would be if a blood test could be used to screen for early signs of emphysema and, potentially, help patients kick their nicotine habit. That sort of test is still in development, but researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College believe they are making progress. Technology Review reports:

The test measures levels of tiny endothelial microparticles that slough off from capillary walls into the bloodstream. Scientists found that these circulating fragments are higher than normal in smokers who have evidence of lung destruction but who have yet to develop symptoms of emphysema. The new blood test may be a cost-effective way to catch the disease early.

“It’s easier to get people to stop smoking if they know they’re developing a disease,” says Ronald Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at the medical school, and lead author of the study (subscription required). “This test tells people you are developing early emphysema, and it’s like a smoke alarm–when it goes off, it doesn’t necessarily tell you there’s a fire, but you have to pay attention to it.”

Previously: Can an experimental blood test improve cancer diagnosis and treatment? and Diagnosing depression with a blood test
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

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