If you’ve ever looked into the field of medical research, you may have heard the term biomarker. In short, a biomarker is a type of measurable sign or indicator which suggests a disease, infection, or other potential health issues. Biomarkers can also be used to create more targeted treatments or to create better diagnostic tools for early identification of certain conditions. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) shared the discovery of biomarkers which indicate active sarcoidosis. See their data in Frontiers of Medicine.
Sarcoidosis is a rare inflammatory disorder which can affect multiple organs throughout the body. However, this condition most often affects the lungs, skin, and lymph nodes. Doctors are not exactly sure what causes sarcoidosis, though many believe it occurs due to an abnormal immune response. Normally, our immune systems protect us from harmful substances or “foreign invaders” by releasing chemicals, communicating with other cells to destroy this invader, and causing inflammation. In patients with sarcoidosis, this process begins – but the inflammation does not stop. Rather, excess immune cells begin to collect, forming granulomas. Though sarcoidosis is rarely fatal, the granulomas can cause health issues while someone is in an active disease state. Risk factors include age (20-60), family history, and race. People of African and Northern European descent are much more likely to develop sarcoidosis than other groups.
However, sarcoidosis may waver between an active disease state and remission. Up to 50% of patients enter remission within just three years. For others, long-term treatment is necessary, especially if complications arise. Symptoms include:
- Coughing and/or wheezing
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Joint pain and swelling
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes
- Kidney stones
- Tender, red patches on the skin
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
- Unintended weight loss
- Swelling of the lower extremities
- Pulmonary fibrosis (lung tissue scarring)
- Vision loss, cataracts, or glaucoma
- Facial paralysis
Learn more about sarcoidosis.
Currently, there are few diagnostic tests to determine whether sarcoidosis is active or inactive. During inactive stages, patients may experience fewer symptoms. Additionally, granulomas are not generally enlarging during inactive stages. Researchers wanted to determine if any biomarkers could identify active vs. inactive disease. Ultimately, this would also help develop better and more targeted treatment plans.
To begin, researchers sourced medical records from 58 patients with sarcoidosis. These records included PET/CT scans, as well as blood and biopsy results. After analyzing the data, researchers determined that patients with lower lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell) counts but higher levels of inflammation were in an active disease state. Thus, lymphocyte levels could predict inflammation. As a result, researchers determined that low lymphocyte counts and high inflammation that can be clearly seen on PET/CT scans highlight active sarcoidosis.
Because treatment varies based on active or inactive sarcoidosis, these new findings could help doctors and researchers develop better treatment options.