RESEARCHERS believe they will soon be able to develop a simple breath test to diagnose multiple sclerosis.

Scientists have identified what they believe to be unique biomarkers for the disease which pass from patients' blood into their breath.

Work is now set to get underway on a larger study to prove that these compounds are only found in MS patients and not in other auto-immune or inflammatory conditions.

The scientists will then attempt to develop a breath-test device which can detect these biomarkers, allowing faster, cheaper and easier diagnosis of the condition.

READ MORE: 'This MS breath test would have changed my life' 

The research will be carried out by Huddersfield University’s Centre for Biomarker Research, in collaboration with the University of Warwick.

Phoebe Tate, a medical biochemist whose work on biomarkers will provide the basis for the study, welcomed the move. 

She said: "It would be speedier for one because you wouldn't have to have specialist medical staff to do a breath test - a breath test can be done by someone with very little training, compared to an MRI scan.

"Also, there are breath test devices that can give you an instant read-out so you wouldn't have to wait for a result.

"It might be supplementary to other forms of diagnosis - we don't know that it would necessarily replace them.

"But it would also be useful potentially for ongoing monitoring as the condition develops.

"You may not have an MRI scan every couple of months, but you could have a breath test."

It comes as the latest research on biomarkers was unveiled during the MS Society's Frontiers conference in Bath.

Every time a person exhales they release hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

READ MORE: MS map of Scotland reveals that Orkney still has highest incidence - but Tayside higher than Shetland

Most of these originate in the bloodstream, meaning they can act as 'biomarkers' signalling hidden physiological changes happening in the body – including disease activity.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, and incidence is also significantly higher than in other parts of the UK.

It is an incurable, disabling and painful condition which causes ever-increasing damage to patients' nervous system, making it harder to do everyday things, like walk, talk, eat and think.

In a pilot study of MS patients, Ms Tate identified potential biomarkers of the disease as well as differences in the biomarkers depending on whether patients had the relapsing-remitting or progressive forms.

A key focus of the new study will be trying to pinpoint the various biomarkers at play, and determining how early in the MS onset that they could be detected.

The researchers want to recruit 500 participants, including 350 people with different types of MS, and 150 'control' participants who will be made up of a combination of healthy participants and people with other auto-immune and inflammatory condition.

Depending on funding, they hope to begin the study before the end of this year or in early 2020.

READ MORE: Mother says no one would believe her when son began developing MS aged just five

The developments in MS biomarker science build on emerging research into how the disease changes patients' microbiome - the composition of their gut bacteria.

Ms Tate said: "In the last couple of years it's been shown that people with MS have a distinct gut microbiome.

"There are certain species of bacteria that they have higher levels of than most healthy people.

"The bacteria produce compounds that are absorbed into the blood and then into the breath, which we can detect.

"So far there is a compound that looks interesting that is produced by certain bacteria in the microbiome that does look to be elevated in people with relapsing-remitting MS, so we want to look at that."

The goal of disease breath-test is not unique to MS.

A clinical trial is currently underway on a lung-cancer breath-test, and a separate study in Cambridge is trying to identify biomarkers for oesophageal, stomach, prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers which would enable earlier detection.

Similar work into potential biomarkers for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are at an early stage.

Morna Simpkins, Director of MS Society Scotland, said: “There are over 11,000 people with MS in Scotland and we often hear that the path to diagnosis is an incredibly stressful time.

“The techniques used for diagnosis are invasive, expensive and often laborious, so this exciting development would address a major unmet need.

"Having a lumbar puncture and even an MRI scan can be an uncomfortable and unsettling experience, which we know people with MS are keen to change.

“While a breath biopsy test may sound futuristic, MS researchers today are achieving some incredible things – and these findings, whilst early, are very encouraging.”