Note: Today’s post gets into the more technical side of biology. I’ll try to navigate the terms as we go.
An N-glycan is a type of carbohydrate molecule in your cells. Some N-glycans can act as biomarkers for diseases, as well as for the efficacy of therapeutics. In other words, their presence or absence may help with diagnosis.
The trouble is, these N-glycans can occur in levels too low to be detected.
Using a specialized microfluidic chip, scientists in the U.S. and China were able to precisely measure trace and ultratrace levels of more than 20 N-glycans, including some that had never been detected before. (“Trace” means the element occurs in a concentration of 0.0001% or less.)
The scientists also identified new N-glycan biomarkers related to rheumatoid arthritis.
“Arthritis” is a collective term for joint disorders. (There are actually more than 100 different types of arthritis.) Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your own body tissues, including the lining of your joints. (Rheum is an archaic word for “fluid,” which was once thought to be the cause.)
The researchers have high hopes for their discovery. “Our glycomic approach will rapidly position itself as one of the most important tools for addressing certain key biological and pathological questions,” they write. “The trace N-glycan biomarkers identified in our study… could have important clinical implications for the diagnosis of RA.”
The researchers hope their work will lead to the discovery of additional biomarkers for autoimmune and infectious diseases.
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