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Vitamin test good news for vegetarians

By Patrick Colvin

Dr. Yvonne Lamers, a UBC professor from the faculty of Land and Food systems.

Dr. Yvonne Lamers, a UBC professor from the faculty of Land and Food systems.

B12 deficiency affects nearly 5% of Canadian adults and often goes undiagnosed, but a new study out of UBC has the potential to change that.

Researchers led by Dr. Yvonne Lamers, a UBC professor from the faculty of Land and Food systems, developed a new system of testing for the deficiency that only requires a single drop of blood, and is sensitive enough to work on anyone, including newborns.

This gives it the potential to be added to the BC Newborn Screening Program that already collects dried blood to test for treatable disorders in infants, but currently isn’t able to determine B12 deficiency. B12 deficiency occurs in people who don’t get enough meat in their diet, and can be transferred to newborn babies.

While Lamers is hopeful that one day the new blood test will be utilized by the screening program, she has tempered expectations due to the long process from research study to medical application and that, realistically, adopting the test into standard B.C. medical practice would takes years.

But it seems she does have reason to be hopeful. The director of the BC Newborn Screening Program, Hilary Vallance, has stated her interest in Lamers’ new method in a recent press release.

“We are interested in Dr. Lamers’ method, which may be sensitive enough to detect and confirm B12 deficiency using the blood spot card currently collected on B.C newborns,” stated Vallance.

Not only does the test have the potential to screen newborns, who can suffer delayed brain development if undiagnosed, as well as digestion problems, but it is also more cost-effective than the current method of testing.

“In the total picture, it is cheaper because the blood spotting can be done by anybody,” said Lamers.

While in Canada roughly 5% of the population has B12 deficiency, in developing countries it can get as high as 80%. Creating a more cost-effective method for testing, that requires less medical equipment, can help bring dependable B12 deficiency testing to rural and developing areas.

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

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