Russian researchers have devised a method that uses the urinary proteome to diagnose conditions in newborn babies. In the future, this urine-based diagnostic method will enable specialists not only to detect a disease, but also to control the therapeutic response and rehabilitation periods without causing pain, according to the study, published in the Journal of Proteomics.

The majority of patients in neonatal intensive care units are premature babies, who often have respiratory conditions. It is important to know the cause of their illness: is it an infection or a failure in the developmental process?

Most of the diagnostic procedures in neonatal intensive therapy are invasive (tissue is destroyed during the procedure, eg biopsy or blood sampling). The composition of biological fluids (blood, urine, saliva etc) is highly complex.

Using high performance mass spectrometry, the researchers are identifiing different proteins in target fluids by measuring their masses and determining protein concentrations by measuring peak intensities in their mass spectra. They carefully conducted bioinformatic processing of the data. As a result, they singled out 36 proteins that indicate if respiratory pathologies are infectious (congenital pneumonia) or non-infectious (tachypnea, infant respiratory distress syndrome).

According to the authors, the urinary proteome of adults has been studied for more than 30 years, but studies of the urinary proteome in pediatrics, especially in neonatology, are limited. In order to further specify the defined infant-specific dataset, proteins were compared with the urinary proteome of healthy adults (men and pregnant women).

“In our pilot study, we succeeded in defining the core urinary proteome and proteins specific for infants and pathological conditions. We are pioneers in the non-invasive identification of urinary biomarkers diagnosing respiratory conditions in newborns. The results are optimistic and will serve as a platform to move forward in developing a method of monitoring conditions in newborns,” says one of the authors, Professor Evgeny Nikolaev, head of MIPT’s Laboratory of Ionic and Molecular Physics.