Unusual blood clots may aid in early detection of leprosy

Unusual blood clots may aid in early detection of leprosy

For years, doctors have observed that some patients with leprosy develop unusual blood clots that can lead to stroke or heart attack. In a new article published with PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Flavio Alves Lara of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute and colleagues have for the first time characterized these blood clots. Their findings lead not only to a new understanding of how leprosy affects the circulatory system but also to potential new screening tests to detect leprosy sooner.

Lara and colleagues searched for blood clotting abnormalities among 638 leprosy patients and identified 35 patients who had unusual fatty clots, which the researchers dubbed “leprosum clots.” The team studied what factors predicted the development of these clots and what molecules were present in them.

The researchers found that patients with and without external signs of leprosy reactions, such as skin lesions and loss of muscle function, had proteins in their blood promoting blood coagulation. When compared to clots from patients without leprosy,  tests on the leprosum clots revealed high levels of lipids as well as fibrinogen, a soluble protein present in blood plasma.

“We propose that some of these components, fibrinogen for example, present potential as predictive biomarkers of leprosy reactions, generating tools for earlier diagnosis and treatment of these events,” the researchers say.

Leprosy is a chronic infection by Mycobacterium leprae and causes body-wide symptoms, deformities, and disability. Despite the existence of antibiotic combinations that can cure leprosy, it remains a worldwide public health problem. The researchers conclude that the discovered fatty clots could become predictive biomarkers of the disease, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment of leprosy.

Research Article: Silva DSd, Teixeira LAC, Beghini DG, Ferreira ATdS, Pinho MdBM, et al. (2018) Blood coagulation abnormalities in multibacillary leprosy patients. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 12(3): e0006214. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0006214

Image Credit: Lara et al, 2018


Avren Keating is a Publications Assistant for PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. They received their MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. You can contact them at akeating@plos.org.

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