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Simple test for vitamin B12 deficiency is sensitive enough to test on newborn babies, say UBC researchers

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a test for vitamin B12 deficiency that requires only a single drop of blood, according to a media release.

The process is fairy simple; test the single drop of blood collected from a finger prick, and then it’s blotted and dried overnight on a filter paper card. The spot card analysis can measure the amount of methylmalonic acid (MMA), which indicates someone’s B12 level.

“This minimally invasive approach helps us measure deficiency in an easier and more convenient way, especially in large samples of people,” said professor, Canada Research Chair in Human Nutrition and Vitamin Metabolism and study author Yvonne Lamers. “Our method is the first to make dried blood spot analysis sensitive enough to test healthy people for B12 deficiency.”

The system is sensitive enough to work on anyone, including newborn babies and large variations of the general population.

Normally, the treatment for the deficiency involves injections, supplements, or dietary change. The deficiency is prominent in people who don’t consume enough meat and dairy products, which is crucial for a healthy nervous system and can also be transferred to newborns. According to Statistics Canada, about five per cent of Canadian adults have a B12 deficiency and 20 per cent display marginal sufficiency.  

The method could make a major impact with the potential to be added to the BC Newborn Screening Program. If B12 deficiency is not treated early, it could cause delayed brain development, slow learning and digestion problem in babies.

“We are interested in Dr. Lamers’ method, which may be sensitive enough to detect and confirm B12 deficiency using the blood spot cards currently collected on B.C. newborns,” said director of the BC Newborn Screening Program Hilary Vallance.

The test is currently being used in a research project in rural Indonesia. 

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