Breath test to diagnose disease
27 November 2006
Breath tests at your local GP could reveal whether you are suffering from a variety of diseases, thanks to a sampling technique developed by Manchester scientists.
The research is reported in the latest edition of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal The Analyst.
When we exhale, we breathe out a complex cocktail of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our breath.
This mixture changes when we are unwell and could be used to diagnose disease or infections, according to Dr Paul Thomas and his team based at Manchester University.
Breath sampler for disease diagnosis.
They have used their technique to analyse human breath - and successfully removed contaminants such as motor fumes, perfumes and tobacco smoke which can corrupt the breath samples.
The system uses pressure sensors to take a sample of breath at the same point in exhalation each time. This is because VOC levels also vary depending at what point in the breath the sample is taken.
Dr Thomas said: "The use of pressure means that doctors can collect the air at the same point in every breath cycle, even if the patient's breathing is irregular."
Dr Janusz Pawliszyn, an expert in air analysis at the University of Waterloo, Canada, said: "Breath analysis has the potential to become a standard medical diagnostic tool, not only in hospitals, but also in doctors' offices.
"Dr Thomas has developed a robust method of collecting breath samples."
The technique will now undergo clinical testing by taking samples from patients at a chest clinic.
Dr Thomas said: "We hope to be able to differentiate between diseases like cancer, tuberculosis and pneumonia, without knowing beforehand what the illness is."
with thanks to James Mitchell Crow for the original article
An adaptive breath sampler for use with human subjects with an impaired respiratory function. M Basanta, T Koimtzis, D Singh, I Wilson and CLP Thomas, Analyst, 2006, DOI: 10.1039/B608608j
Doctors could one day give health check-ups by analysing our breath, UK chemists say.
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