A healthy immune system guards your body against viruses and bacteria by recognizing them as foreign invaders and activating specific cellular responses to eliminate the threat. For the immune system to function properly, it must identify the difference between your body’s cells and foreign cells or pathogens. If the immune system fails to recognize native cells and mistakes parts of the body as foreign, it will release proteins, or autoantibodies, to attack healthy cells, causing autoimmune disease.
One autoimmune disease to take a closer look at is antiphospholipid syndrome (APS). This syndrome is characterized by the release of antibodies that make red blood cells more likely to agglutinate, causing blood clots to form within veins and arteries. These blood clots can form in the legs and organs like the lungs, kidneys, and spleen. Strokes, heart attacks and damage, kidney failure, pulmonary embolisms, and other conditions can arise from blood clots. In severe cases, blood clots can damage multiple organs in a short period because they limit blood perfusion.
Antiphospholipid syndrome affects women disproportionately compared to men — four affected women for every man affected with the condition. This data is important because antiphospholipid syndrome can cause miscarriages. Recurring miscarriages are attributed to a case of APS roughly 15% of the time, and it is considered the most easily avoidable cause of miscarriages. APS can further affect women’s reproductive health, as the combination of it and the hormonal birth control pill causes infertility in 90% of the cases within only ten years.
Diagnosing Antiphospholipid Syndrome
It is not uncommon for those affected with APS to be unaware that they have the condition. Patients are then also unaware they are at higher risk for blood clots in situations like surgeries, bed rest, smoking cigarettes, having high cholesterol, and taking oral contraceptives or estrogen therapy. Women affected by the condition will also be unaware they have a higher risk for pregnancy complications like miscarriage, premature delivery, slow fetal growth, stillbirth, and dangerously high blood pressure.
Current tests only have a 40% sensitivity for antiphospholipids. A reliable diagnosis normally involves both tests and visible clinical signs. Creating a more accurate test is difficult because the origins of APS are relatively unknown, but there is a test in development that has increased this success from 40% to 85%.
To get there, scientists identified the region of the glycoprotein that the antiphospholipids target, then worked to find a molecule with similar properties to this region so the APS antibodies could target it in a screening test. Researchers found a molecule that has 60 times more affinity for APS antiphospholipids than the target region on the glycoprotein. The molecule allowed for the creation of a synthetic antibody directed against the glycoprotein; this antibody is combined with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) techniques to identify the presence of APS antibodies. The ELISA kit allows for a quantitative dosage and standardization of measures, delivering a high degree of reliability.
Better Quality of Life and Longevity
This test is available for research purposes and is currently undergoing a clinical study in humans. If the ELISA test proves to be successful in detecting APS in humans, it will drastically reduce the time it takes for a diagnosis. With a diagnosis in hand, APS patients will be able to mitigate things like clots by taking oral contraceptives and reducing bad habits like smoking.