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The rise of breath monitoring to diagnose diseases

Friday, 11 January 2013 at 12:06:PM

Bio-VOCA BBC news article this morning covers a recently published paper that highlights the rising importance of patterns of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in breath to diagnose diseases.

The research, which is reported in full in an open-access paper in the Journal of Breath Research, was led by Jane Hill at the University of Vermont, Burlington, USA. Her team of researchers analysed breath samples from mice infected with various bacterial strains, using mass spectrometry to generate a spectral ‘breathprint’. With the help of chemometric techniques, they found that these breathprints could be used to distinguish between bacterial strains based just on the breath sample.

They concluded that their study “adds to the growing body of literature advancing the promise of successful breath-based diagnostics for infectious diseases”, but acknowledged that more work needs to be done to understand the differences between the VOC profiles of bacteria obtained in vitro and those from breath samples.

This research is just the latest in a growing body of literature looking at the potential of breath monitoring for rapid VOC profiling for disease diagnosis – so-called ‘volatilome’ studies. This was a trend which we at Markes noticed some years ago, when researchers started becoming interested in using our Bio-VOC breath sampler to capture breath samples for analysis by thermal desorption–gas chromatography. This interest has continued, as illustrated by recent articles covering the use of our instruments to diagnose pulmonary disease, asthma, and asbestos-induced lung cancer.

As this area of research has developed, it has become apparent that breath volatiles vary greatly from person to person, and so it is important to collect information about a range of compounds. Indeed, as Hill and colleagues point out, using a small number of biomarkers has not generally met with much success, and “several techniques are being explored that capture more complete breath volatilomes for the diagnosis of infectious disease”.

Clearly, then, collecting comprehensive information about the compounds present in breath will continue to be an important area of study, and here at Markes we are pleased to think that we’re playing our part in the development of new techniques to help people live healthier lives.

David Barden

David Barden received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Cambridge University in 2004, and during his time as an editor at the RSC wrote news pieces for Chemistry World on various scientific topics. He is now Technical Copywriter at Markes International, where he draws on the expertise of his colleagues to explain how new thermal desorption and mass spectrometry technologies can be applied to analyse volatile organic compounds in a wide variety of situations.

Further reading

For breath monitoring to become routine, simple sampling equipment will be needed, and various types are now available, including our very own Bio-VOC .

For examples of Bio-VOC in action, have a look at this BBC press report for details of research at Swansea University using it for disease diagnosis, and this journal article for details of a 2005 Italian study using Bio-VOC for early diagnosis of lung cancer.

For lots more examples of studies into monitoring VOCs in breath using TD, have a look at the “Medical” section of our recently-updated literature compendium, TDTS 4 (“Publications and presentations citing Markes’ products”).

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