Lung infection identified using a breath print

  • Posted

Posted 11/01/2013

Identifying the smell of different types of lung bacteria could lead to a simple breath test to diagnose infections. This view is supported by a study carried out on mice and reported in the journal of breath research.

Breath analysis could reduce lung infection diagnosis time from weeks to minutes. Scientists have already researched breath tests to diagnose asthma and cancer. An expert said breath analysis was an important and emerging field.

Diagnosing bacterial infections traditionally means collecting a sample that is used to grow bacteria in the lab and this can take time. Doctors see breath analysis in contrast as a fast and non-evasive method of diagnosing diseases.   

The study at the University of Vermont analysed volatile organic compounds given off exhaled breath by different bacteria as well as different strains of the same bacterium.  They used mice for the experiment, who were given two bacteria common in lung infections. They sampled their breath after 24 hours. Research showed a statistically significant difference between the breath profiles of the mice infected with the bacteria and the mice that were uninfected.  

There are still some challenges to overcome with breath prints but it is an emerging field and is likely to take off across the board. It could be a very useful tool for children with illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, providing a guide as to how best to treat them.  

Julie Crossley, a clinical negligence lawyer at Ashtons Legal, says: “This will be a significant breakthrough and cut down on the time it usually takes to grow bacteria in the laboratory. If we could diagnose diseases, specifically cancer, on a breath test it would bring forward the diagnosis time and earlier treatment could be given. Anything that can be done to cut the rates of delayed diagnosis or mis-diagnosis of illnesses will be very welcome. We see too many cases where there has been negligent delay in diagnosis, with serious or fatal consequences”.


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