Swiss pick up baton for breath Dx research

Scientists in recent years have devoted their energies toward developing breath diagnostics for heart failure and various other diseases. A team from Switzerland is now carrying the torch, having identified unique signatures in breath that could help screen for respiratory problems or other diseases.

Their research is published in the online journal PLoS ONE, and The Australian highlights the major findings.

As the newspaper reports, the research team pursued a relatively small study using a mass spectrometer to analyze breath samples from 11 younger adults over 11 days, four times per day. They found that healthy people displayed stable chemical combinations in their breath. But that composition changed for sick people, such as those they tested who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Co-author Renato Zenobi of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich told The Australian that the testing approach would work to spot a number of disease states, "as long as it shows a metabolic pattern in the exhaled breath." What's more, they noted, analyzing breath is non-invasive, quick and potentially quite simple.

The simplicity, of course, is dependent on having a viable diagnostic tool. And while a mass spectrometer in its current form would be clunky, Zenobi advocated developing smaller varieties that could hit the market within a few years, though he posited to the newspaper that such an advance "is just a matter of time."

That may be, but researchers across the world have been pursuing breath diagnostics for some time. Advances in recent years include proposed breath tests for early detection of diseases such as diabetes, and a pursuit of diagnostics to screen for tuberculosis, heart failure, stomach and lung cancer. And physicians already test for nitric oxide in the breath to evaluate patients for asthma.

They're also exploring different materials--a study involving researchers from Israel and China, for example, generated positive results using a nanomaterial-based breath test for stomach cancer. More recently, the Cleveland Clinic has had some success with a diagnostic breath test to spot heart failure, determining that heart failure patients had unique "breathprints" for volatile organic compounds--higher levels than would be found in healthy patients.

- read The Australian's coverage
- here's the study

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