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May 31, 2017
Blood tests are powerful tools for early detection of a wide range of diseases, but an evolving approach – using tiny spots of dried blood – opens up exciting new possibilities for healthcare and research.
Traditional blood samples are drawn from a vein by a clinician and captured in vials. The samples can be complicated to collect and difficult to store. The newer process uses a 1.2 mm disc punched out of a dried blood spot on filter paper to achieve similar results.
Sweden’s Uppsala University has just publicized research results on an application of the practice called proximity extension assay (PEA). “Our conclusion is that we can measure levels of 92 proteins with very high precision and sensitivity using PEA technology in the tiny, punched-out discs from a dried blood spot,” says Johan Björkesten, a doctoral student at Uppsala University and the first author of the study. “The actual drying process has a negligible effect on the various proteins and the effect is reproducible, which means that it can be included in the calculation.”
This blood testing advancement has big implications for both the practice of medicine as well as the infrastructure for medical research. “First, you [the patient] can prick your own finger and send in a dried blood spot by post,” says Ulf Landegren, professor of molecular medicine at the university and head of the molecular tools research group. This would save time and money by making an in-person doctor’s appointment avoidable. “Second, at a minimal cost, it will be possible to build gigantic biobanks of samples obtained on a routine clinical basis. This means that samples can be taken before the clinical debut of a disease, to identify markers of value for early diagnosis, improving the scope for curative treatment.”
Blood storage would be easier as well. Storing traditional fluid blood samples consumes a relatively large amount of space in freezers. In fact, Uppsala University Hospital saves only 1 percent of traditional blood samples in a biobank. The new ability to collect numerous samples from numerous individuals and cost-effectively store them for decades will give scientists access to many more stored samples than was previously possible at a fraction of the cost and space.
The concept of dried blood spot testing was introduced 50 years ago and gained traction in neonatal applications. Recent advances have significantly expanded its utility. Certain diagnostic tests, however, still require more blood volume than a dried spot can provide.
It goes without saying we’re excited about the new possibilities for biobanks, research, and more affordable patient care.