A new study has found that proteins in blood could potentially help provide a comprehensive “liquid health check” in the future, assessing our health and predicting the likelihood that we will we will develop a range of diseases.
The research, published in Nature Medicine, shows that large-scale measurement of proteins in a single blood test can provide important information about our health, and can help to predict a range of different diseases and risk factors.
Researchers scanned 5,000 proteins in a plasma sample taken from 17,000 participants, resulting in around 85 million protein targets being measured.
They then analysed the results using statistical methods and machine learning techniques to develop predictive models – for example, that an individual whose blood contains a certain pattern of proteins is at increased risk of developing diabetes.
The models covered a number of health states, including levels of liver fat, kidney function and visceral fat, alcohol consumption, physical activity and smoking behaviour, and for risk of developing type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The results showed that the accuracy of the models varied, with some showing high predictive powers, such as for percentage body fat, while others had only modest prognostic power, such as for cardiovascular risk.
The researchers reported that their protein-based models were all either better predictors than models based on traditional risk factors or would constitute more convenient and less expensive alternatives to traditional testing.
Many of the proteins are linked to a number of health states or conditions; for example, leptin, which modulates appetite and metabolism, was informative for predictive models of percentage body fat, visceral fat, physical activity and fitness.
It’s being hailed as “remarkable” that “plasma protein patterns alone can faithfully represent such a wide variety of common and important health issues” commented Dr Stephen Williams, chief medical officer of SomaLogic, who went on to call the discovery “just the tip of the iceberg”.
He continued, “We have more than a hundred tests in our SomaSignal pipeline and believe that large-scale protein scanning has the potential to become a sole information source for individualised health assessments.”
While the study shows a “proof-of-principle”, the researchers say that as technology improves and becomes more affordable, it is feasible that a comprehensive health evaluation using a battery of protein models derived from a single blood sample could be offered as routine by health services.